Family contact is the “golden thread” that needs to run through prison reform according to a recent Ministry of Justice report.
The review, conducted by Lord Farmer, looked at the importance of strengthening prisoners’ family ties in reducing reoffending rates, which currently cost society an estimated £13-£15 billion per year.
It unlocks a whole new way of communicating with their children
Inside Stories, a project by the charity Create, attempts to help solve these issues by enabling prisoners to create storybooks for their kids – who often appear as characters.
“It unlocks a whole new way of communicating with their children, both in prison and on the outside,” Nicky Goulder, the Chief Executive of the charity says. “I sat in a prison with a guy who spent one hour cutting out a white fluffy owl for his story – a whole hour because this was a key character and the stories are usually written about their children, for their children.”
The programme works in prisons across England and Wales and is run by a collection of professional writers, visual artists and musicians. After 12 half-day workshops of writing, illustrating and recording an audio version of their story – that includes music and sound effects – the prisoners perform the stories to their children and families. The initiative is enormously popular, with prisoners even having requested transferring to certain prisons in order to take part in Inside Stories.
“The investment of the guys, the concentration and commitment to these stories as the self-expression of everything they feel about their children – the sense of that is just absolutely palpable,” Goulder continues.
The Ministry of Justice report emphasises how family connections should be prioritised along with education and employment as the “third leg of the stool” that brings stability and structure to prisoners’ lives. Research shows that prisoners who receive visits from a family member have odds of reoffending that are 39% lower than for those who don’t.
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Goulder agrees with the findings and explains that Inside Stories does more than help fathers feel connected to their children: “The project is also geared around giving offenders the chance to develop their own social skills, confidence, communication, teamwork, developing creative thinking, working to deadline – lots of things which are key skills for getting a job, going to interviews and forming relationships with other people.”
Words: Sophie Monaghan-Coombs