30 May 2019
A new prison initiative to encourage stronger family interaction and promote the wellbeing of children with parents in custody begins this week.
Today the States of Jersey Prison Service (SoJPS) will host their first ‘family visits’, sessions in which prisoners can spend quality time with their loved ones. There will be no fixed seating plan and, contrary to requirements during normal prison visits, families will not have to remain seated. It is hoped that by creating a more relaxed environment in which prisoners can play with their children, it will strengthen family ties and reduce the fear some youngsters experience when visiting a parent in prison.
The initiative supports the Government of Jersey’s island-wide focus on putting children first, and complements parenting courses that SoJPS have run in partnership with the Bridge.
During the family visits, therapy dogs will interact with children to help them feel less intimidated by the prison surroundings, and a small buffet will be provided for families, paid for by the prisoners attending. It will also be possible for prisoners to have a photograph taken with their children. For family visits that do not involve children, other forms of activities tailored towards a more mature audience can be planned.
The family visits will be supported by Catholic Church charity Caritas, representatives from which may already be supporting the families in the community. They will be present to help facilitate positive and constructive interactions between parents and children during the visit.
Prisoners will be given the opportunity to apply for a family visit once every three months, and the initiative will be reviewed on an ongoing basis.
The Head of the Prison Service and Governor, Nick Cameron, said: “We want to enhance how prisoners who are parents can interact with their children during visits. Prisoners will not be confined to tables and will be able to play with their children. This will strengthen child and parent bonds, allow prisoners to practise improved skills acquired through the parenting courses we have run with the Bridge, and also reduce the fear children may feel when visiting a parent at the prison.
“We are focusing on improving parenting skills and how we as a service look after the wellbeing of children and young adult visitors. We know that a prisoner with a strong family support is far less likely to reoffend, and will be motivated to succeed on reintegration to the community. We also want to do our best to break intergenerational cycles of offending. We are grateful for our partners in the voluntary sector for assisting us to do this, and especially Caritas who have helped us with the family visits project.”
Caritas Jersey has played a vital part in the development of family visits and will be offering ongoing support to families and parents in custody.
The Executive Director of Caritas Jersey, John Scally, commented: “Caritas Jersey is delighted to support this initiative, which enables us to further develop the support we offer to the families of those who are imprisoned. We are delighted that the States of Jersey Prison Service recognise the importance of strengthening family ties where appropriate. We hope it will assist in the reintegration for those people leaving prison and, in turn, help to reduce reoffending, which can only be of benefit for the wider community.
“We are also pleased to continue working in partnership with the Government of Jersey in working towards one of their strategic priorities of putting children first. We look forward to participating in this exciting venture and hope to increase the ways in which we support those families affected by imprisonment.”