Bishop of Rochester stresses importance of family in helping prisoners reform

On 11th October 2017 the House of Lords held a short debate on a motion from Lord Farmer, “To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made in implementing the report from the Farmer Review, The Importance of Prisoners’ Family Ties for Reform: Preventing Reoffending and Reducing Intergenerational Crime”. Rt Revd James Langstaff, Bishop of Rochester, spoke in the debate in his capacity as lead Bishop for Prisons: 

The Lord Bishop of Rochester: My Lords, I, too, welcome this report and I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, and his team for producing it and for providing the opportunity for this debate today. The report itself, as noble Lords who have read ​it will know, is comprehensive, cogently argued, full of detailed supporting material and, importantly, highlights a number of innovative responses in various places across the prison estate. In summary, a clear case is made for nurturing healthy relationships for those in prison and the connection between that and rehabilitation and reoffending.

I note, and I do not know whether this is connected in any way, that the new Expectations used since last month by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons mentions the importance of family rather more frequently than previous editions. Indeed, it is mentioned some 34 times; for example in sections covering first night and induction, self-harm, diversity, healthcare and rehabilitation. Indeed, family is there right at the beginning of the section on rehabilitation and release planning, covering some three pages. I take some encouragement from that and I hope the Minister will indicate that that is a sign to us that these things are being taken on board. I hope that, since Her Majesty’s chief inspector is taking these things into account when inspecting prisons, that will give some accountability and some possibility of monitoring, but there is clearly a question around that.

Others have mentioned closeness to home and the importance of geography. It is a reality that some of the innovative schemes and programmes mentioned here, not least school connectivity around HMP Parc, just cannot happen unless the schools at which the prisoners’ children are being educated are closely proximate to the prison. This is a particular issue in London and the south-east, where prisoners are scattered over a huge area; we really need some will to tackle that issue and make it work, otherwise these really good aspirations will unfortunately fall. There are some really good examples around and we need to see them replicated, but there are things inherent in the system that militate against that.

I am grateful for the mention of chaplaincy in paragraph 104. I want to renew the offer of churches and faith communities in that regard, because chaplaincies and chaplaincy volunteers are often the go-between people, not least because of our connection with faith communities outside. I put that on the table afresh and I know that many would join me in affirming our desire to work around these issues because of the reality that we are in touch with the prisoners in prison and in the communities where their families are. That connection can be really helpful especially where there is geographical distance—the chaplain can be on the phone to the local minister, the youth worker or whoever it is, and make those connections. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference has mentioned to me the example of a chaplain keeping in touch with a prisoner’s girlfriend through the stages of her pregnancy and being able to reassure the prisoner, who was deeply anxious. These are very practical, small-scale things.

While not a direct focus of this review, the review itself has inevitably raised for me the question of those prisoners for whom there is no identifiable family. If it is the case that family relationships aid rehabilitation and reduce reoffending, what of those for whom such relationships are not possible? I raise the question for myself as much as for other noble Lords: is there something creative and imaginative that could be done ​around an equivalent of fostering for former offenders, whereby we put relationships in place that can fill that gap? The lessons here could be applied in such ways.


Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)…Alongside holding governors to account, it is also right that Ministers are held to account for improvements in this area. That is why I am grateful to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons for updating the expectations it inspects prisons against each year in light of my noble friend’s review. This was mentioned by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester and the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield. The standards now include a number of areas relating to family and significant others that the inspectorate will consider when deciding inspection ratings.​..

%d bloggers like this: