A new report commissioned by Pact has found that 75% of prisoners’ families want more support, including meeting other people in similar situations and accessing professional advice and guidance.  

The report comes following a detailed consultation with prisoners’ families which found that three quarters of respondents would be interested in attending a peer support group (a group of people with similar experiences who come together to share and support each other). Prisoners’ families identified this type of support as providing an opportunity to feel part of a community that does not judge or stigmatise them and suggested that speaking to others in similar circumstances would help to reduce feelings of isolation and shame. This is particularly poignant in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic which has greatly diminished the opportunity for prisoners’ families to engage with each other in prison Visitors’ Centres or to access other types of dedicated non-judgemental support. 

It’s great to get advice and hear from people in a similar situation.

The report also highlighted a need for specific support for prisoners’ families who are facing particularly challenging circumstances, including families of people who are mentally unwell in prison. Respondents suggested that they would benefit from having support from others who understand the experience of mental illness in custody, which highlights the lack of existing support available for prisoners’ families in the community. One of the mothers of a prisoner we spoke to told us, “It’s really hard to cope with it alone.” 

People in the same boat would have empathy and understanding.

Pact’s current charitably funded services include providing befriending support (one to one support and guidance from trained volunteers via telephone once a week), and, more recently, the introduction of online peer support groups, where groups of between 5 – 8 people already benefitting from our befriending service can come together to share their experiences in a safe space. We are grateful to the Garfield Weston Foundation, the Swire Charitable Trust, and the National Lottery Community Fund for their generous support in enabling us to research and pilot these much-needed peer support groups.

Following the findings of the report, Pact will be investigating whether the groups can be further expanded to meet the clear demand from prisoners’ families for peer support groups including creating circumstance-specific groups for families. 

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Published: 23rd July 2021