Andy Keen-Downs, Pact CEO responds to this morning’s speech from Secretary of State, David Gauke.

Attending the early morning speech by new Secretary of State David Gauke, I heard a number of positive messages about the importance of rehabilitation, the key role of prison officers, and about the MOJ’s determination to bring all prisons up to the basic standards of decency. There was a clear acknowledgement of the state of crisis within many of our prisons that lies behind the horrifying statistics - 28,000 acts of violence, 43,000 acts of self-harm. We heard that things will get better. 

We also heard some welcome messages about some of the issues close to Pact’s heart. The Secretary of State made a reference to the fact that many prisoners’ families suffer greatly as a consequence of the availability of Spice and other drugs within prisons.

We have raised the issue of families suffering from extortion and blackmail as a result of drug debts and criminal activity within prisons. Every week, the Pact helpline is working in partnership with prisons and the police to support families and to keep their loved ones safe. It’s a growing issue and we are dealing with life or death cases - so it was good to hear this acknowledged. It was also very positive to hear the recognition that families are important to rehabilitation and in particular, I was delighted to hear the Secretary of State say that he wants to see increased contact between prisoners and their children and families.

However, I was greatly concerned to hear the Secretary of State link family contact with HMPPS privileges scheme. 

A big focus of the speech was on a review of incentives and privileges. “Incentives work” was a phrase he used. He spoke about the need to review how the incentives and earned privileges scheme works to make it more effective, and in general terms, we would agree. But we would urge the Secretary of State to spend a little more time considering the central importance of human and family relationships, including contact with children, before linking it with the idea of using families as a carrot for good behaviour. 

As the excellent Lord Farmer report so clearly articulates, healthy family and human relationships are the ‘golden thread’ of prison reform and rehabilitation. Positive family relationships and the maintenance of family ties during custody has massive benefits. It make prisons safer - improving prisoner behaviour, reducing the risk of self-harm and suicide and reduces violence - improving relationships between prisoners and staff.  As the joint thematic inspection also showed, prisoners’ families are the most effective resettlement agency, responsible for more homes and more jobs than any of the voluntary public or private sector agencies. So if we are interested in what works, it is clear that families work. I would respectfully encourage the Secretary of State to ensure that policy is based on this evidence, that he carefully reads the Farmer Report and that he reconsiders whether prisoners’ children, mothers, partners and other loved ones, should be considered an ‘incentive’ or human beings who need our care and support to enable them to be active partners in rehabilitation.

To read more evidence on the impact that positive relationships can have on behaviour, violence, self-harm and reducing re-offending, visit our reports and research section.

To find out more about how Pact worked alongside Lord Farmer in his review of of what works for men in prison to reduce re-offending and inter-generational offending, click here