We are delighted to announce the findings of an independent evaluation of our national helpline for prisoners’ families.

The report called ‘At the end of the line’ outlines how in 2016, 4187 prisoners’ families and friends contacted the charity’s helpline via the freephone telephone number, via email, webform and in writing, with enquiries relating to a wide range of issues including:

  • Struggling to keep in contact with their relative in prison.
  • Advice on how to tell children that a parent has gone to prison
  • Concerns about the mental health of prisoners and specific concerns about prisoners who were suicidal and/or self-harming.
  • Concerns about treatment for physical health conditions in prison and questions about healthcare in prison
  • Preparing for release including avoiding homelessness.
  • Coping with the emotional impact of having a family member in prison

The evaluation found that 80% of the callers were women, with the largest two groups being mothers of prisoners, and their partners.

The Pact Helpline is run from the charity’s base in Peckham, South London, and is provided by a Helpline Coordinator employed by Pact, and by a team of 20 trained and supervised volunteers who respond to contacts and manage cases. A number of the volunteers have personal experience of imprisonment or of a family member going to prison.

As part of the study, which was carried out by Dr Carlie Goldsmith, 134 callers were surveyed and interviewed. Analysis of the responses showed that:

  • 100% of respondents strongly agreed or agreed that the helpline was easy to access.
  • 94% strongly agreed or agreed that the Pact helpline team listened to them.
  • 94% strongly agreed or agreed that the Pact helpline team treated them with respect.

In addition, survey respondents provided comments on the quality of the service they had received from the helpline. Analysis of these responses shows that service users considered the helpline to be:

  • A professional service that provided very good advice and support.
  • Staffed by people who treated them with empathy and care.
  • More accessible because it provided a telephone service as well as other ways to contact.

One caller told Dr Goldsmith:

“[The volunteer] was fantastic; she called up the prison on my behalf and got back to me when she said she would. She really put my mind at ease.”

In conclusion, the evaluation found that: “The Pact Helpline provides an excellent service to the majority of its callers. Staff and volunteers offer a non-judgemental approach that avoids adding to the stigma and distress many service users feel because of their family member’s imprisonment. The kindness, care and respect shown, as well as the efforts to ensure that issues are resolved satisfactorily, is commendable.”

Andy Keen-Downs, Pact CEO said: “What this report tells us is that there are thousands of family members who want to help and to play their role in keeping their loved ones safe during prison, and to play a positive role in their rehabilitation, but who are effectively ‘locked out’ of the system.

This is important information for anyone who wants to reduce or prevent crime. The Ministry of Justice’s own research says that prisoners who maintain positive family contact are 39% less likely to re-offend. If we want to tackle re-offending by ex-prisoners, this report tells us that much more needs to be done to listen to prisoners’ families, and to give them the support they need to help their loved ones turn away from crime and make a fresh start on release.

Whilst it would be naïve to suggest that all families are a positive influence, this evaluation adds to the weight of evidence that there are thousands of desperately worried families who want to engage positively with the justice system, and to do the right thing.  They often come to Pact for support when they feel ‘at the end of the line’.  We provide information, advice, and emotional support, and act as a trusted intermediary with colleagues in HMP Prison Service. I am delighted to read this evaluation of the Pact Helpline as offering a unique and valued services that acts as a kind of gateway ‘through the prison wall’. Our experience working in the community with families, and inside prisons, gives us a depth of knowledge that enables us to resolve many of the issues that are happening inside prison and report back to families with accurate, useful information that is reassuring.”

To read the report in full, please click here.