The Farmer Review
Today, 10 August 2017, the Ministry of Justice published Lord Michael Farmer’s landmark review, ‘Importance of strengthening prisoners’ family ties to prevent reoffending and reduce intergenerational crime’, in which he identified family as the “golden thread” running through the processes of all prisons as well as in the planned prison reform process.
The review was commissioned in September 2016 specifically as part of the government’s prison reform programme. It was produced in partnership with Clinks with the remit to investigate how connecting prisoners with their families can improve offender wellbeing, assist in keeping the public safe and reduce reoffending.
Lord Farmer highlights the MoJ’s research that prisoners who receive visits from families or partners have a reoffending rae 39% lower than those who don’t. He highlights Lord Woolf’s inquiry into the riots at Strangeways and other prisons in 1990 and notes that one of his 12 major recommendations was that there should be:
Better prospects for prisoners to maintain their links with families and the community through more visits and home leaves and through being located in community prisons as near to their homes as possible.
Michael Farmer notes that there has been some significant change in the last 30 years but that this has been led mainly by the voluntary sector and that provision for links with families varies widely across the prison estate. He is clear that real change will need both investment and a change in culture:
The last 30 years have taught us that cultural change that will embed the importance of families to rehabilitation will not happen simply by a process of evolution. The reforms I am recommending will not be possible without the additional money and staff that have been promised to the prison system, but they will also require a change in the mind-set of many governors, senior staff and prison officers.
The report is structured to mirror the white paper on prison reform with chapters on:
- The Right Framework for Improvement,
- Raising Standards,
- Empowered Governors,
- Safe and Secure Prisons,
- Developing our leaders and staff, and
- Building the right estate for reform.
I set out his main recommendations below.
The report’s principal recommendations include:
- There should be a clear and simple structure for accountability as regards prisoners’ contact and relationships with their family.
- The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice to be made responsible for ensuring prisoners’ family ties are consistently treated as important across the estate by including them in his accountabilities.
- The importance of ‘Maintaining and developing family relationships’ must be explicitly stated as part of the purpose of prison, to protect the agenda from being de-prioritised or dropped under future governments. (Interesting that this remains in the review, despite the government abandoning the Prisons and Courts Bill which would have set in law for the first time that a key purpose of prisons is to reform offenders.)
- It should also be explicitly specified that the Performance Agreements the Secretary of State enters into with governors and executive governors of prison clusters must include a ‘local family offer’ to ensure that effective family work is delivered inside prisons.
- The Performance Agreement with each prison should specify the following local family offer elements (with guidance from the Ministry of Justice) but detailed design and delivery to be at the broad discretion of Governors in each establishment:
(a) Visitor base/centre and visiting services;
(b) Staffing structure to ensure family work is an operational priority;
(c) Extended visits;
(d) Family learning;and
(e) ‘Gateway’ communication system.
- The Ministry of Justice should ensure that the importance of family ties is a golden thread running through the new policy frameworks based on the revised and pruned body of Prison Service Orders and Prison Service Instructions and also Probation Instructions.
- Governors to be held to account for positive family work outcomes.
Other interesting recommendations include:
- Families to be involved in sentence and resettlement planning.
- A standardised visitors’ survey.
- Prison escort services should establish family contact details before an individual leaves court.
- Governors’ tenures should be a minimum of three years.
- Prisoners on ROTL should be able to visit families.
- All new-build prisons should be subject to the Government’s Family Test and required to produce a family impact assessment which should be published.
- Prisoners should be kept in their home region whenever possible.
- Virtual visits using Skype etc. should be available when family members are unable to visit “due to infirmity, distance or other factors.”
This is a rigorous and demanding review and we must wait and see what progress the MoJ and HMPPS make in implementing its recommendations. This will be both difficult to do in the current crisis situation, but imperative if we are to make any progress on prison reform. I shall leave the last word to Lord Farmer:
My report is not sentimental about prisoners’ families, as if they can, simply by their presence, alchemise a disposition to commit crime into one that is law abiding.
However, I do want to hammer home a very simple principle of reform that needs to be a golden thread running through the prison system and the agencies that surround it. That principle is that relationships are fundamentally important if people are to change.
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