West Cornwall MP Derek Thomas says that making prisoners more aware of their family responsibilities could be a major factor in rehabilitating them back into society after serving their sentence.
Speaking in a parliamentary debate on the role of prisons, Mr Thomas said: “Prison, other than keeping an individual away from a life of crime, achieves very little if nothing is done to address their behaviour when he or she is released.
“Prisoners’ responsibilities to their families should be seen as an important lever for change.
“It is right to take someone who is judged to be a risk to society out of that community, but I believe that from the day a prisoner arrives in prison, work must be done to prepare for their release.
“The best family work taking place in prisons has brought men face-to-face with their enduring responsibilities to the family left in the community, particularly their wives, partners and children, but also their parents, siblings and grandparents.
“It helps them forge a new identity for themselves, an important precursor to desistance from crime, based on being a good role model to their children, a caring husband, partner and friend and a reliable provider through legal employment.”
Mr Thomas gave examples from other prison services which place a greater emphasis on involving the family in a prisoner’s rehabilitation – in one men’s prison in Louisiana, for example, families are involved as soon as the individual arrives at the prison.
The Director of Re-entry invites a family member, or someone close to the prisoner, to the prison for an informal meeting, allowing the director to learn about the prisoner’s background and how he can be best supported.
To help this process in UK prisons, Mr Thomas suggests expanding the role of a Personal Officer.
“This is a prison officer who has been assigned to act as your point of contact while within prison, and is the officer who is expected to provide a “reference” for you whenever you apply for jobs or seek a change of status,” he added.
“It seems to me that the personal officer model could and should be extended to include a family liaison aspect which could make the role much more rewarding and productive.”