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20/11/15 10:00

£1.8 million support for prisoners’ families

Services to tackle social inequality and help reduce reoffending to be extended.

The Scottish Government has announced £1.8 million funding to extend vital support for the families of prisoners.

Prison visitor centres will receive the funding over the next three years to support families affected by imprisonment to access important services like housing, health and welfare. New services at prisons which don’t currently have visitor centres will also be developed.

The centres aim to reduce social and economic inequalities experienced by families affected by imprisonment, by supporting them to access key services. Staff aim to break the cycle of offending through targeted work with children and encouraging family contact by improving their experience as visitors.

Around 27,000 children every year are affected by a parent going to prison, around double the number of children affected by divorce. Maintaining close contact with family can reduce the risk of reoffending by up to six times, yet almost half of prisoners lose contact with their families when they go to prison.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said: “I am delighted to be able to announce this funding which will strengthen support to some of the most vulnerable people in Scotland.

“Working closely with families and young people in this way reduces inequality, promoting social justice and helps to break the cycle of offending in young people.

“The main focus of prison visitor centres is the family rather than the prisoner. These services are vital for helping them deal with the issues they face as a result of their family member’s imprisonment, as well as helping to break the cycle of offending.

“Evidence shows that offering prisoners meaningful contact with their families can have a direct impact on reducing the risk of reoffending by up to six times.

“Ranging from emotional support to addressing problems in housing, finance, child welfare and domestic abuse, prison visitor centres can support families for the duration of a prison sentence as well as improving the prospects reintegrating back into the community.”

The £1.8 million funding comes from the government’s Community Justice, Public Health and Early Years portfolios to benefit healthy living, support families and reduce offending.

Ewan Aitken, Cyrenians CEO and Chair of the National Prison Visitors Centre Steering Group, said:

“This is a very welcome announcement. This money will go a long way to helping achieve our ambition is a prison visitor centre in every prison to support families affected by imprisonment.

“We know the support provided by prison visitor centres change families lives and often the post imprisonment choices made by the person who has served a sentence. This money will help many more families affected by imprisonment journey to a better place for themselves and their relative serving a sentence.”

Prof Nancy Loucks, Chief Executive of Families Outside, said:

"We are delighted that the Scottish Government recognises the value of prison visitors' centres as a critical resource for reaching Scotland's most vulnerable families. These independent centres not only provide the information and support crucial to families at a difficult time, but also supports the Government's aims of inclusion, early intervention, and prevention of longer-term problems."

Christine Scullion, Head of Development at The Robertson Trust, said:

“Visitor centres provide invaluable support to families affected by imprisonment which is why we, along with the Tudor Trust and several other independent funders, have contributed significant support to the area over the last decade. We have been extremely keen to find a sustainable future for these vital services so naturally we are delighted with the announcement.”

Notes to editors

The funding supports the Programme for Government priority of reducing inequality and promoting social justice.

There are at present Prison Visitor Centres in HMP Edinburgh, Addiewell, Perth, Polmont, Grampian, Barlinnie and Cornton Vale, all run by 3rd sector organisations in partnership with the Scottish prison Service.

Prison Visitor Centres receive core funding from independent trusts, such as The Robertson Trust, the largest independent grant-making trust in Scotland. The Robertson Trust funds a wide range of charitable projects across Scotland, including more than £2 million to Scotland’s prison visitor centres so far.

The impact of imprisonment of a family member includes loss of income; loss of housing; victimisation; stigma; difficulties for children at school; physical and mental ill health; problems with travel and transport for those who wish to visit prison; and lack of the family's involvement in key decisions that affect them.

A National Prison Visitor Centre Steering Group (NPVCSG), a collaboration of 37 organisations across the public and third sector, is working on National Standards for Prison Visitor Centres.

The purpose of the National Prison Visitor Centre’s Steering Group (NPVCSG) is to provide a strategy for the creation and sustainable support for a prison visitor centre (PVC) in every prison facility in Scotland, to support the creation and training of local groups to oversee local service delivery, to develop and review benchmarking for core standards in PVC’s and to provide methods of research and analysis of the impact of PVC’s on the lives of those who use them.

Families Outside is a national Scottish charity that works solely on behalf of children and families affected by imprisonment.