Communicate To Rehabilitate

From Prison UK: An Insider's View, a guest contribution from Claire at the PrisonPhone team.

The latest in a series of guest posts on this blog has been provided by Claire from the PrisonPhone team. In it she highlights the practical problems of staying in touch that face prisoners and their families and friends despite the widely acknowledged importance of maintaining family ties in rehabilitation and reducing the risks of reoffending upon release.

It’s Good (and Vital) to Talk

Phone access can be a problem

Rehabilitation has always been a hot topic when it comes to the prison system. Even the most Dickensian politician is unlikely to make a total stand against rehabilitation, though admittedly, some MPs seem to sway precariously close to the notion that prison should merely be used as an instrument of punishment.

However, in the quest to identify whether or not we need rehabilitation in our prison systems, we often forget to consider what rehabilitation actually is. How is it implemented in prisons? What does it actually consist of, in practical terms? And, the big question that we struggle to find the answer to – why is communication with loved ones not really recognised as a key aspect of the rehabilitation process?

Re-educating, Re-evaluating, Recognising?

Aids rehab

Many official prison documents outline rehabilitative measures – such as education, courses, opportunities to engage in meaningful work and counselling sessions. Indeed, there’s been a lot of focus recently on the value of education – and providing inmates with a goal to work towards has undeniable value.

However, family support is very seldom recognised as an aspect of rehabilitation, which is something that never ceases to surprise us. When we talk to inmates (both past and present), the importance of staying in contact with loved ones often comes up in conversation.

Most prisoners agree that they feel better supported after chatting to family and friends, and more focused on making a positive return to society upon their release. So, in light of this, why is communication with family so undervalued in the prison system?

The Current Situation – Distancing Families

The current situation for prisoners is fairly dire. It’s common practice for inmates to be moved from prison to prison on a regular basis, often with no notice, and in many cases this means being located a considerable distance from family and friends.

When this occurs, phone communication becomes especially important. However, in some prisons opportunities for phone conversations are incredibly limited. Many phones are situated within prison wings and are only available for use at certain times of the day. Often, due to staff shortages or alarms on the wings, phone calls are banned which means the inmate is unable to contact their family on that particular occasion. This is a fairly regular occurrence.

Family ties work both ways
The usual time limit on each call is between 10 and 15 minutes. This isn’t so bad if the inmate is calling a landline. In fact, this should only cost around £1.00 - £2.00, which doesn’t take up too much of an inmate’s meagre weekly allowance. However, as we all know, sometimes getting in touch with people on a landline is difficult. Unless they know the exact time you’ll be calling, it’s possible they’ll be out, at work, picking up the children or doing one of many other tasks that take them out of the house.

A call to a mobile phone is a far more reliable option, but is currently impractical for most prisoners, due to financial constraints. In the current prison phone system, a mere eight minute call to a mobile phone can cost over £3.00, while a longer call is likely to use up a substantial portion of the prisoner’s weekly spending allowance which is also needed to purchase toiletries and other necessities.

Greater Distance, Greater Isolation

Communicating can cut tension

Without the necessary communication with family and friends, prisoners quickly begin to feel isolated, unsupported and out of touch with the world outside. This is precisely where the problem lies. Once an inmate starts to feel distanced from their family, their hometown, their society – that’s when they start to struggle to rehabilitate successfully. The thought of returning to ‘normal’ life becomes harder to imagine, because they are regularly being denied the right to maintain contact with that normal life – and it starts to become an abstract concept.

In light of this, it is unsurprising that so many prisoners report feeling isolated, depressed and, in some instances, suicidal. After all, what do most of us do when we’re feeling down, or struggling with life? We talk to those around us, and we seek comfort. In prison, finding the right person to talk to is a lot more complicated. We believe, if the government wants to improve rehabilitation and reduce rates of reoffending, it’s important to address this key issue.

Government Priorities?

A recent government document ‘Reoffending and Rehabilitation’ discusses rehabilitation in depth, identifying methods such as ‘payment by results’ (rewarding inmates for good behaviour), providing ‘meaningful and productive work’, and helping inmates to resettle in the community after their sentence is served (which is certainly a start!).

However, at no point is the issue of family support mentioned. Although we could find government documents outlining support for families and friends of inmates, nowhere could we find evidence of any document relating to the prisoners themselves – and the importance of family support whilst they’re in prison.

PrisonPhone offers a way for prisoners to enjoy cheaper tariffs when calling mobiles. The system is secure, reliable and in no way affects the current prison pay phone security. To find out more about the plans Prison Phone offer please visit the Prison Phone price plans page online (here).


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Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

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