SUPPORTING FAMILIES WHO HAVE COMMITTED NO CRIME BUT ARE LEFT PAYING THE PRICE NONETHELESS
BY JULIE-ANNE SIMM, Manager, the Croft (HMP Barlinnie Visitor Support & Advice Service)
Imprisonment has a profound impact on the immediate family of a prisoner and their wider circle of family and friends. Not only at a practical level but at a deep emotional level, for the duration of the sentence and way beyond.
The work of the Croft (an independent charity) is a vital life link to families who often feel that they cannot talk to anyone else without fear of being judged and stigmatised. The importance of this work may not seem immediately obvious to people who have not experienced a loved one being imprisoned first-hand but, when you sit and listen to a prisoner’s loved ones pour out the most raw and personal details of their lives, laid bare and vulnerable, feeling confused and helpless, the message and the value of the Croft’s work quickly hits home.
The fact that they can text, phone, email and pop in to our centre before or after visits means that however bad their day is, someone is there for them, no matter what, not judging, not lecturing, but listening with an empathy that reaches through the fear and stigma.
This support is not a one off, it continues for as long as they need it. Only recently a family member, whose loved one was released over a year ago, got in touch to say just how much the Croft staff helped them through the most difficult time of their life, when no one else knew of their situation, and that they would like to keep in touch and make a donation of gratitude.
We make a lasting positive difference to people’s lives, who through no fault of their own, and having committed no crime, are serving their own sentence.
The Croft in context – The work of Croft does not sit in isolation, working in partnership it sits within the wider context of the Community Justice agenda, whereby, as well as providing emotional and practical support to those family members impacted, the work that we do also has a role in reducing re-offending.
Support for families to maintain positive contact when someone is in prison has been identified through evidence as a factor in preventing reoffending – Families can be the sole reason for preventing individuals who are involved in the criminal justice system from reoffending. For example, research by Dr Sapouna, M et al (2015) Scottish Government, What Works to Reduce Reoffending – A Summary of the Evidence (2015), found that families can help with the intervention process and have a positive impact on the reintegration of their family member who has been involved in crime.
The emotional and practical impact on families and loves ones – 2017 research (Constructive Connections: building the resilience of families affected by the criminal justice system) conducted with families with children impacted by parental imprisonment, commissioned by NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde (conducted by the Universities of Salford & Huddersfield, supported by Families Outside) found that families described complex emotion and relationship changes when a parent is involved in the justice system, for example the:
- challenge of taking on new roles and supporting their family in a different way than before;
- disruption caused by arrest or incarceration; and
- stigma and discrimination that they experience.
It is clear that families and other individuals adversely impacted by a family member going to Prison often serve a sentence of their own and there is clear evidence that a family members’ involvement in the justice system can have wide ranging impacts upon family members – Scottish Government estimates 20 – 27,000 and Barnardo’s estimates that around 30,000 children in Scotland face parental imprisonment every year. Their report ‘On the Outside: Identifying & Supporting Children With a Parent in Prison’ notes that children are unlikely to make themselves known for fear of stigmatisation or bullying and as a result are hidden from the supports that may help them.
As well as these challenging emotional aspects, people impacted often just need someone to give them some practical support, how to access visiting, how to tell the children, how to sort out the financial implications – often the person incarcerated is the main bread winner or recipient of benefits for the household.
The 2017 Constructive Connections Research Final Report (2019) found that Community and specialist organisations (such as the Croft), that are aware of the complex impacts on families through a family member’s involvement in the justice system, can help mitigate some of those impacts and provide relevant, timely support.
In our day to day work, Croft staff, in partnership with other public and 3rd Sector organisations either provide that support directly, both practical and emotional, or through referral to other partner organisations and services that can deal with specific aspects to meet their needs, such as, Families Outside, Glasgow Association for Mental Health or Parkhead Citizens’ Advice Bureau.
People can just drop in or make appointments – we provide non-judgemental support, information and advice to the family members throughout their loved one’s incarceration and help them manage the emotional and practical issues arising such as benefits, housing, travel, health & wellbeing and other emotional support. Over 2019-20 we have supported:
- access to food parcels;
- 730 Photographic ID applications;
- 1031 Travel Expenses forms and assistance with online applications;
- information about Email a Prisoner to 1,768 people;
- information and referrals about support with debt and money advice to 2,481 people;
- information about Children’s Visits to 1,857 people;
- information and referrals for Family Support to 2,559 people;
- emotional support to 4,059 people; and
- information about Prison Procedures to 3,854 people.
In total in 2019 we supported 9,598 adults and 3,332 children with 22,311 separate issues (Jan – Dec).
It has been a busy time, over 2019-20, the Croft Board took a decision to extend the reach of the Croft out into the community through a network of supported community, peer to peer hubs. This work has started to take shape with a Lived Experience Outreach Worker now developing the first of these hubs in the Ruchazie area as a test of change. We will work with existing organisations and groups adding value to and complementing the services they already provide, thereby establishing positive and meaningful partnerships.
Once groups have formed, we will provide and co-ordinate a range of educational and practical activities such as life skills, budgeting, cooking & nutrition, arts & craft etc. as an engagement means to allow people to open up and support each other.
We are also working towards the provision of digital online support, this work has been elevated in priority due to the Covid 19 Pandemic. A project plan is in place and will develop over 2020-21.
Margaret Smith, Policy, Planning & Development Officer, Community Justice Glasgow, commented:
“Action to address and mitigate the support for families affected by victimisation or involvement in the justice system has been recognised as a priority in the National Community Justice Strategy 2016. It has also been recognised as one of the 9 key priorities set out in set out in Community Justice Glasgow’s Community Justice Outcome Improvement Plan 2018-2023.
We know, as the evidence tells us, that families of individuals involved in the justice system, can experience a variety of impacts upon their lives and family functioning. Changes to financial support and income may result in families being at risk of losing housing through no fault of their own. We also know that families experience isolation, exclusion and stigma by association, all of which present challenges in engaging with services and maintaining normative family functioning. These impacts can be devastating and leave a long term footprint that can lead to poorer life outcomes going forward.
Working closely with fantastic organisations like the Croft and Families Outside goes such a long way to mitigating some of these short and long term impacts and helps Community Justice Partners to realise their ambitions around supporting families who are impacted. We also recognise that keeping strong family connections and bonds can also works to mitigating some of the risks around further offending.”