Guiding defendants’ families on their journey through the courts

Guiding Defendants’ Families On Their Journey Through The Courts (1)

For many defendants' families, court dates are the beginning of a long and difficult journey lasting for months or even years. The backlog of cases waiting to go to court continues to rise, and the remand population has risen to the highest level in 50 years. Families face the challenges of prolonged waiting times, often distressed, isolated, and scared to reach out to their usual support networks due to fear of judgment.

Pact supports people at every stage of the criminal justice system and has developed its Court Service to respond to growing need at the very start of the justice process. Currently active in 12 courts across London, the South East and Wales, including one Youth Court, our mission is to ensure that no one faces these challenges alone.

With funding from National Lottery Wales, Tracey and Charleigh provide a new service at Swansea Crown Court, helped by a small team of dedicated volunteers. Both women have experience supporting a loved one in prison and have previously volunteered for Pact. Tracey explains: “We are here to be a familiar face and build rapport with the families without judgment. We provide a link between the defendant and their family through court proceedings until sentencing. Families are often very anxious, emotional and in a state of crisis. We help by explaining what will happen next and demystifying the language used in court."

"We offer support at the earliest point of the justice journey and help families with the transition to custody when their loved one is sentenced. We have a fantastic relationship with the court staff, which is vital to our work. We couldn't do what we do without it. Last Friday, we supported 41 families through court proceedings, ensuring we spoke to all of them! Our feet didn't touch the ground all day.”

Court can be very isolating and frightening, but Pact has enabled me to navigate it. Thank you so much, I’m so grateful- defendant's family member

During court proceedings, families often feel locked out and unable to access information, such as which prison their loved one has been sent to. They may also feel unable to pass on important information about their loved one’s health, medication, or disabilities. Tracey tells us: "We recently had a case where the prison staff collecting a defendant found him uncooperative and stubborn – he was, in fact, deaf. We identify these issues with the family and work hard to ensure the prison is aware of them. We've created a new system that captures key information to be passed to the prison staff collecting the defendant after sentencing – it's helpful for everyone and reassuring for families.”

"It's made a real difference having Pact here. Families are definitely better off now, and we would not want to be without them." - Court Manager

"Getting to grips with a loved one going to prison is tough, and there is often confusion about what happens next. We've put together an information pack covering everything you could possibly need to know as a family member visiting someone for the first time: issues such as clothing, medication, what happens on visits, and the paperwork you need to understand. It's a complete guide to the process, and families have benefitted enormously from being involved in developing the pack. Simple improvements like this can make such a massive difference."

"You must be resilient if you work in the courts. You see first-hand the impact of issues such as poverty, trauma and mental ill health on individuals and their families. As I meet people, I learn that everyone has their own story. I fear what would happen if Pact wasn't there for people, and I find it so rewarding knowing we can make a difference. We are so privileged to be doing this work at Swansea. At the end of the day, empathy and compassion are the driving force for what we do."