20th October 2005

Action for Prisoners’ Families (APF) organized a conference in London on maintaining family contact on 20th October 2005. With over 200 delegates attending, the conference opened on an original note with the performance of a specially commissioned play entitled “Homeward Bound,” by Mary Cooper. Performed by the M6 Theatre Company, the play skillfully highlights the issues and emotional conflicts that families face when a family member, in this case the father, is about to be released from prison. All perspectives are touched upon-the child’s, partner’s and offender’s-with respect to the effects of imprisonment and key transitional points, such as the period running up to an offender’s release. Keynote speaker Fiona Mactaggart, Parliamentary Undersecretary for Race Equality, Community Policy and Civil Renewal, underscored the importance of family ties and community with respect to resettlement and cited the need for additional state support (noting the high rate of self-inflicted deaths in the week following an offender’s release, for example). She described how families can provide a reason for change and stressed the need to tap into new technological means for maintaining quality family contact, such as video for inter-prison visits. Other speakers included Mary McLeod, Chief Executivev, National Family & Parenting Institute, and Hazel Banks, Head of Women’s Team & Juvenile Group, HM Prison Service.
In addition, the winners of the inaugural Daisy & Tom Awards, a competition launched by APF to reward prisons in the England & Wales for sustainable initiatives that improve family contact, were announced at the conference. Top prizes went to HMP Bristol (for Relationships Workshops for prisoners and their partners); HMP Wandsworth (for working with arts educational charity Safe Ground to train prison officers to manage and deliver the nationally accredited FAMIILY MAN family relationships course); and HMP Stafford (for special family visits to allow prisoners to maintain contact in a more relaxed setting than traditional prison visits and to enhance their parenting skills). Storybooks Dads (a project where prisoners read stories on tape for their children) also received an award.
A DVD of “Homeward Bound,” a highly effective tool in awareness-raising and changing attitudes in all sectors concerned with offenders and families, is being made and will be available from APF early in 2006.
For further information, please email: info@actionpf.org.uk, or visit the APF website.

The Howard League for Penal Reform is organizing a series of conferences on the legal and human rights of children in the penal system, to be held in London at the end of 2005.

They address youth offending teams, local authorities, youth and social workers, probation practitioners, sentencers, lawyers, voluntary sector organisations, academics and anyone working in the criminal justice system and concerned about reform. They consist of plenary sessions with keynote speakers, questions and debates, and breakout sessions to explore good practice and further discussions.
The next conference of the series entitled Children in custody will be held on December 2nd, 2005.

Eurochips played a key role at NEPACS’s third national conference, held in early September at Collingwood College , in Durham , northern England and entitled Prisoners and their Families: Sustaining the Links. Ria Wolleswinkel, jurist and associate professor at Maastricht University in the Netherlands and former president of Eurochips, delivered the keynote speech, giving a broad overview of the needs and rights of children with imprisoned relatives. Her talk helped raise awareness on how a rights-based approach can be invoked to improve facilities for prisoners’ families. Lloyd Withers, national coordinator of the Family and Corrections Network in Canada , underscored the need for national voluntary organizations to unite both in strategy and policy to improve arrangements for offenders’ families. The conference included a wide range of workshops covering different aspects of family relationships where delegates had a chance to learn from experts and discuss ideas. Eurochips members Rita Christensen and Pernilla Svebo Lindgren of the association RiksBryggan in Sweden discussed the Bryggan project with prisoners’ children, as well as the study circles on parenthood developed in Swedish prisons. Workshops focused on Scottish and Russian initiatives, and explored various aspects of work with offenders’ families in England . Topics included drugs, black families and family friendly practice in prisons (initiatives run by Action for Prisoners’ Families, as well as others), preparing families for resettlement, and fostering basic relationship skills for prisoners and their partners. NEPACS (North East Prison After Care Service) is a voluntary, independent, community-based charity that supports offenders, ex-offenders and their friends and families.

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Author: rmchristen