Last week, Pact met with Prisons Minister, Andrew Selous, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Michael Gove, senior officials, prison governors and other voluntary sector partners at a roundtable chaired by CLINKS. Pact’s Chief Executive, Andy Keen-Downs attended the roundtable which was organised as a result of his letter to Michael Gove, expressing concern that the closure of inner city prisons might have a negative impact on prisoners being able to maintain family ties.

Pact’s Chief Executive was accompanied by three of our service users, two of whom had a son in prison and one who had a partner in prison. The group was able to hear their experiences of the criminal justice system and how they were affected by issues such as home raids, the difficulties and fear surrounding visiting a prison for the first time, financial hardship and the stigma that they, their children and families suffered. They were able to share their thoughts on how the system could be improved to ensure that family relationships do not break down, that the children and families of prisoners do not suffer unnecessarily, and how better support can be put in place to ensure that prisoners are more likely to resettle into the community and are less likely to reoffend when released. Lauren, one of the service users who attended the roundtable said of her experience:

“When I first got in touch with Pact, I was desperate – suicidal. They really helped me. My son going to prison meant I lost my job, my confidence, everything. I was rock bottom.  I told my story to the Ministers and to the officials, and gave my opinions on what they need to do to work with families so that we can make sure there is real rehabilitation. Pact made it possible for me to have a voice.  And I think the Ministers and their officials really listened to us. I hope it will make a difference, and that the Government will remember that prisoners’ family members like me are the people who will give a lot of prisoners a real chance of a fresh start – but that we need support too.”

We would like to thank our service users for their bravery in coming forward and for sharing their stories, and we would also like to thank the Ministers for taking on board their experiences and opinions. We look forward to working together to ensure that the question of maintaining family relationships is a key factor in policy-making moving forward.