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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 December 2007, 00:10 GMT
Family visits 'key for prisoners'
anonymous prisoner
A lack of family ties while in jail is linked to higher reoffend rates
The reoffend rate for convicts could be cut if the government did more to support the children and families of those in jail, campaigners say.

An alliance of prison charities will later launch an appeal to MPs to reform the penal system to better support families and encourage prison visits.

The charities say 160,000 children have a parent - usually a father - in jail.

They says helping prisoners maintain family ties has a proven track record of reducing reoffend rates.

The newly-formed alliance, which consists of Action for Prisoners' Families, CLINKS, the Prison Advice & Care Trust and the Prison Reform Trust, will call on the government to improve access to prisoners and to make visiting a less stressful experience.

Family break-up

"Prisoners' families hold the key to reducing in re-offending," said Lucy Gampell, Director of Action for Prisoners' Families, in launching the campaign.

She said there is a lack of awareness of the importance of maintaining strong family ties.

"Until the government recognises that they need help, support and improved visiting arrangements if they are to maintain meaningful relationships with the prisoner, we will continue to fail them and society."

Prisoners' children are the innocent hidden victims of crime, and are far more vulnerable than other children to becoming involved in crime in later life
Andy Keen-Downs, Prison Advice & Care Trust

The charities say 45% of prisoners lose contact with their families while in jail and those prisoners who do receive regular visitors are twice as likely to have a job to go to upon their release and three times more likely to have a stable place to stay.

The charities warn that bureaucratic problems affecting the family visiting system are so serious they contribute to the break-up of many families.

They say both prisoners and families should be given detailed information about what the early days in custody hold for prisoners in order to alleviate stress and fears over safety.

They will also call upon the government to ensure prisons offer a "welcoming family and visitors' centre", a family contact worker to keep families updated on the welfare of their loved one and easier access to booking visits.

Andy Keen-Downs, Director of the Prison Advice & Care Trust, said the state has an obligation to the children of those it jails.

"Prisoners' children are the innocent hidden victims of crime, and are far more vulnerable than other children to becoming involved in crime in later life. Our campaign is based on the premise that when the state locks up a child's parent, it has a duty of care to the child."

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