Families disconnected by prison: a scoping study in barriers to community engagement

Lead Research Organisation: Royal Holloway, University of London
Department Name: Mathematics


On 5th November 2011, the prison population in England and Wales was 87,749 (Prison Population Statistics, Standard Note SN/SG 4334) and that population is set to increase. It is estimated that 160,000 children in England and Wales experience the imprisonment of a parent every year (Prison Reform Trust) and during their time at school 7% of children experience their father's imprisonment (Dept. of Education and Skills (2003)). Using the current prison population projections, the numbers of children with a parent in prison are set to rise to 200,000 by 2012.

Home Office research has shown that family ties have a positive effect on prisoner rehabilitation (Niven, S and Stewart, D (2005)) However, despite this, there is no official agency catering specifically for the needs of prisoners' families and children and no information or support is routinely offered to them. Instead, voluntary sector organisations together with other families in this community, are the main providers of support to prisoners' families. It is perhaps not surprising that parts of this community are disconnected not only from family members through imprisonment but also from this community of people and institutions who can help and support them through the hardships that imprisonment brings. The primary question that our research asks is why some prisoners' families do not connect with the prisoner family community even when they are faced with severe emotional and practical burdens. There are clear examples of both physical and technological spaces being used by prisoners' families as community focal points. There are also examples of support services used by parts of this community. However, practitioners point out that only a small percentage of families in this position connect in this way (Salmon, 2005a). Many families remain unsupported and invisible to this community. This scoping study asks the questions: what factors influence the disconnection? Is it simply a question of not being aware such a community exists? Is it that the information about access to this community is inaccessible in some way?

In order to address these questions, the scoping study will explore the nature of community identity in this particular context and tease out support needs and barriers to community engagement. These questions will be explored in two stages: 1) a review stage in which a review of key studies on prisoners' families is conducted and 2) an outreach stage which explores the themes emerging from the review with the parts of the community who form the focus of the study.

Having teased out the themes relating to community engagement and notions of identity, the outreach part of the study will explore these themes using a participatory approach where co-exploration with parts of the community currently disconnected will be encouraged. The sessions will use specifically designed 'exploration packs' containing a variety of creative materials to work with and create physical representations around the participants' experiences. Participatory theatre techniques will be used to encourage engagement and to help participants develop the narratives into a deeper explanation of engagement issues.

The end result will be a discussion document outlining an agenda for action in the words of the community, creative tools that can be used to further discussion and a report that presents the narrative of disconnection.

Planned Impact

In addition to academic beneficiaries, there are three primary user and beneficiary groups for the scoping project's work; these are:
- Prisoners and their families
- Policy makers and communicators
- Practitioners working with prisoners and their families, including family liaison officers, social services and teachers

Prisoners and their families
The prisoners and their families stand to be a substantial beneficiary group from this scoping study. As a community, they will not only benefit from the outputs of the research but also from the process of co-exploration in the outreach activities. The process of co-exploration is an approach that uses different participatory methods to empower participants to explore the themes related to this scope. The process of co-exploration is designed to be nurturing and through its use, build participants' confidence.

The community is very much central to this process and will be empowered to contribute to outputs which will be disseminated at national level as well as local level. Through this process not only do the direct participants benefit from contributing their views as to the ways in which this community can be strengthened and supported, but also what is discovered in these sessions will be naturally disseminated outwards at community level through the participants themselves.

Policy makers and communicators
The outputs from this research will act as input to public policy debate related to the welfare of prisoners' families. The scope of this study is also highly relevant to the debate on the delivery of public services and the transparency of those services. The outputs will also aid those whose job it is to communicate issues relating to the prison population. The outputs also have the potential to be valuable input to the discussions around community support that are taking place in the wake of the riots in England during the summer of 2011.

There are several outputs from this research that will benefit practitioners working with prisoners' families. The narratives developed from the review and deepened through the outreach activities will provide further insight for practitioners as to the nature of the difficulties that prisoners' families can experience. These narratives will also show practitioners how these issues are expressed by the community and provide a vocabulary that may be of benefit to those practitioners who give family support. The experimentation with co-exploration techniques may also benefit practitioners and offer input as to how practitioners themselves may facilitate group discussions on the scope's themes. The co-exploration techniques could also offer approaches that can be used by practitioners to co-design community support. The creative outputs from the outreach stage could also be used by practitioners to help further the conversations about community engagement after the scoping study is completed.


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Title Hidden Families: prison visting journeys 
Description Collaborative textile collage reflecting the prison visiting journeys undertaken by families 
Type Of Art Artefact (including digital) 
Year Produced 2013 
Impact The non-academic impact of this artefact is that it is used to enhance prisoner rehabilitation training given by Action for Prisoners' Families. 
URL http://proboscis.org.uk/tag/hidden-families/
Description The media and form of information for families separated by prison needs to be diversified in order to engage those who do not regard themselves as leaflet readers or Internet consumers. Provision should be made to develop an informaton dissemination programme that a) uses local social networks and community communication in spaces such as Community Centres b) can enage with families and the offenders as a cohesive unit where it is beneficial to do so.
Exploitation Route Both the reports, the story cubes and the textile collage are used by third sector organisations as part of training and support for families separated by prison.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy

URL http://proboscis.org.uk/tag/hidden-families
Description Both the reports, the story cubes and the textile collage are used by third sector organisations as part of training and support for families separated by prison. In particular, the outputs are used by the North East Prison After Care Society (NEPACS). NEPACS have confirmed that since January 2014 on average 8 individuals per week have used the story cubes as part of visitor induction training at the Visitor Centre attached to a prison in the North East of England. Action for Prisoners' Families have confirmed that since January 2014 the textile collage has been used monthly as part of rehabilitation training.
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy
Impact Types Societal

Description AHRC Connected Communities Showcase 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Exhibition of the work from the Connected Communities project titled "Families Disconnected by Prison: A Scoping Study in Barriers to Engagement"

The notable impact: bring together different stakeholders and raise awareness of families separated by prison.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013