Call for prisoner parenting programme to be expanded

13 February, 2017: The expansion of a family intervention programme which developed prisoners’ parenting skills into other prisons has been called for, following a new report from Limerick University.

The Family Links programme worked with prisoner families in Limerick Prison to develop improved relationships between prisoners, their partners and children – together with developing and a more family supportive environment within the prison itself.

The programme, evaluated by the University of Limerick, took place over 18 months and included 15 families with 28 children, whose father was in prison.

In the evaluation report launched today by the Minister for Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald, the fathers said that they had an improved understanding of their role as fathers and parents, improved understanding of the difficulties their partners faced and that they had engaged with their families in a more meaningful way.

The partners of prisoners reported that group activities, which used elements from the Parents Plus Parenting Programme, provided an opportunity to discuss everyday challenges and that they had increased their communication and conflict resolution skills.

The report authors Professor Orla Muldoon and Daragh Bradshaw of the University of Limerick cited international research which shows that maintaining imprisoned fathers’ contact with their partners and children can reduce re-offending and protect vulnerable children from criminal careers.

For example, research in Britain found that imprisoned fathers who maintained a positive relationship with their children, were six times less likely to re-offend.

The Family Links programme was developed in partnership between the Tallaght based Childhood Development Initiative (CDI), the Irish Prison Service (IPS), and the Parents Plus Charity, and its delivery was supported by the Bedford Row Family Agency (in Limerick).

Four different training courses were rolled out for prison staff during the programme, particularly working with Prison Officers and prison education staff. Formal parent education was delivered to the prisoners, while their partners received similar supports in the community and enhanced family visits took place.

The Family Links report was launched this morning by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald who said Family Links recognised the impact of family relationships on recidivism, alongside multi-generational offending.

“The Family Links Initiative is highly innovative in many aspects: the engagement of multiple stakeholders in its delivery, the direct involvement of prisoners’ families and the evidence based approach all contribute to a potentially highly effective intervention.”

CEO of the Childhood Development Initiative Marian Quinn said: “Family Links builds on a model of parental engagement which CDI has been co-ordinating in community settings for many years, and this programme involved adapting it to a prison setting.

“We are particularly pleased to note that since the completion of the evaluation, the Irish Prison Service and CDI have formally agreed a partnership to facilitate the integration of this approach into areas other than Limerick Prison. We recommend that the IPS expand this approach into other prisons as part of its future planning.”

Director General of the Irish Prison Service Michael Donnellan said: “The Irish Prison Service was delighted to be part of this programme as it is in line with our commitment to support families affected by parental incarceration. Families on the margins are those most in need.

“An evidence based approach to improving prisoners’ relationship with their families, and the role model which fathers provide for their children, will reduce criminality and ultimately be of great benefit to society.”

The programme was a first trial of its type in Ireland and also included a lot of learning about the challenges of providing intervention programmes within a prison environment.

More information on Family Links can be found here.