Prisoners who are regularly visited by a partner or family member are 39% less likely to reoffend than those who don’t. Scotland has just 15 prisons, compared to 131 in England and Wales, so inmates’ families are far more likely to have to travel long distances to visit them. The time and expense of these journeys can make a difficult situation even tougher, and result in prisoners having less contact with their loved ones.
If we want to break the cycle of reoffending and maximise prisoners’ chances of making a fresh start when they’re released, it’s crucial that they get the support they need to keep in touch with their families, particularly when distance is an obstacle. This is where Purple Visits comes in. We offer secure video calls to keep inmates connected with their families and enhance the rehabilitative process. By enabling people in prison to maintain close, positive relationships, we hope to help turn prisons into places of reform.
Time after time, research has shown that prisoners who receive regular visits from a partner or family member are less likely to reoffend than those who don’t receive regular visits. Prisoners who have steady contact with their loved ones are more likely to stay positive, rather than becoming isolated, committing further offences behind bars or turning to drugs. Prisoners’ visitors can encourage them to make long-term plans for their release, and prepare while still in custody by dedicating time to education and employment. Visits help inmates to maintain an identity which has nothing to do with prison, too, whether that’s being a good role model for their child, a good partner or a provider for their family. The value of visits – both physical and virtual – couldn’t be clearer, and must be supported as part of the government’s agenda to reform the prison system.
The recently published Farmer Review, which was a review into the prison system within England and Wales took a close look at how helping inmates to stay in touch with their families can reduce reoffending and concluded that too little is being done to enable visits. The review, by Lord Farmer, found that supportive relationships with family members and significant others give meaning and motivation to other forms of rehabilitation. Lord Farmer said; “As one prisoner told me, ‘If I don’t see my family I will lose them, if I lose them what have I got left?’”
“My report is not sentimental about prisoners’ families, as if they can, simply by their presence, alchemise a disposition to commit crime into one that is law-abiding,” he continued.
“However, I do want to hammer home a very simple principle of reform that needs to be a golden thread running through the prison system and the agencies that surround it. That principle is that relationships are fundamentally important if people are to change.
“In the course of my Review I met an army of people who instinctively recognised this. Prison governors, their management teams and prison officers of all ranks, as well as the voluntary sector organisations that exist to ensure families and prisoners can keep in touch and have the best relationships possible in highly constrained circumstances.”
The review recommends that video calling technology should be made available to some prisoners so that they can stay in touch with family members who are unable to visit them due to illness or distance.
We here at Purple Visits however feel Virtual visits should be made available to all of the people in custody, as long as the system is robust and secure, we feel it should be considered a leap forward in terms of offender rehabilitation.
Lord Farmer refers to a facility in Northern Ireland where inmates already have access to video calls and says the technology could prevent people in prison from becoming “stuck in a technological dark age which will ill-equip them for life on the outside”.
At Purple Visits, we have worked closely with the criminal justice system to create a service which we believe can make a real difference – not only to the lives of inmates, but to society as a whole, too. By helping to strengthen ties between prisoners and their loved ones – particularly where distance is an obstacle – we believe we can play an important role in reducing reoffending rates and helping the government to achieve their goal of turning our jails into true places of reform.
George Kyriacou is the creator of Purple Visits. Purple Visits is a company which helps facilitate virtual prison visits. For more information visit www.purplevisits.com