Probation reforms threaten support for prisoners' families

By Neil Puffett

| 21 February 2013

Government proposals to reform probation services will damage the quality of work to improve the lives of children that have a parent in prison, it has been claimed.

There are an estimated 200,000 children of prisoners in England. Image: Howard League for Penal Reform

Under the government’s plans, the management of lower-risk offenders will be opened up to the market in an attempt to improve the quality of provision and drive down reoffending rates.

But responding to a consultation on the proposals, the charity Action for Prisoners’ Families has warned that the plans could prevent small voluntary and community organisations from providing specialist support services to prisoners’ families.

“It is likely to be big private providers who bid for these contracts,” warned Sarah Salmon, deputy director of Action for Prisoners’ Families.

“The smaller organisations that we represent are not going to be able to compete. They have got lots of experience but they are likely to get lost if the contracts are so huge.”

Salmon argued that support for prisoners’ families could be overlooked by larger providers charged with reducing reoffending on a payment-by-results basis.

“Families aren’t really mentioned in the consultation,” she said. “Family relationships are important in reducing reoffending, which is what probation services do, but the concern is that they will get overlooked when providers are considering the one-size-fits-all cheapest model.”

It is estimated that there are around 200,000 children of prisoners in England. Studies have shown that they are at increased risk of suffering mental health and behavioural problems and of becoming offenders themselves in later life.

The Ministry of Justice has been contacted for comment.


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