Prison throughcare: a family support approach

Circle Scotland

Circle works to improve opportunities for disadvantaged families in Scotland. This includes working with children at risk of school exclusion and their families; children experiencing neglect, physical, emotional and/or sexual abuse; children and families affected by parental drug and alcohol misuse; fathers who are not engaging with services; and workforce development through mentoring and student training opportunities.

In 2007, the Robertson Trust funded Circle to conduct research into the women's prison population at HMP & YOI Cornton Vale.  Previous research into women offenders had identified them as an exceptionally vulnerable group, characterised by substance misuse, poor physical and mental health, deprivation, and victimisation. They commonly require a tremendous range of support to overcome the numerous issues in their daily lives.  Offending tends to be less serious than for men, with women often ending up in prison following failure to comply with community penalties.

The report from Circle, What Life After Prison? Voices of Women of Cornton Vale, identified a need for more structured throughcare for this vulnerable group.  After negotiation with the prison, Circle began delivering a pilot throughcare service in August 2008 for women released from Cornton Vale to Edinburgh, West Lothian, and North and South Lanarkshire.

Through funding from the Robertson Trust and Sodexo Justice Services Circle has subsequently extended its work to those leaving HMP Greenock and to male offenders (with children) leaving HMP Addiewell. Through additional Community Justice Authority funding the project is now supporting offenders returning to their families in 18 local authority areas.

The project aims to support the whole family to manage the reintegration of the partner/parent in order to:

  • improve the health and well-being of families
  • improve access to opportunities
  • provide safer, more secure homes for children and
  • promote safer environments for children and families through reducing the impact of crime and imprisonment

In 2010/11 the service helped 138 families and 258 children with significant success in keeping parents out of prison and in strengthening parenting and family relationships. Engagement levels are high. After two years, only 22% of women engaging with Circle have returned to prison compared with a national figure of 47%.

The project has helped parents to address their drug use and family relationships have improved with families closely involved in the support offered. Kinship carers have been assisted to access practical, emotional and financial support.

The family support approach has made a significant difference to families' lives.   For example, Andrew, a father of two young children was in prison for drug offences. He says, nine months after leaving prison, "Things are now looking good. I am doing well in my job and am happy with work and family life. Everything happens for a reason but there's no return to prison for me."

One woman commented on her worker as "the best worker I have ever had, and I have been in and out of homes since I was 16. I don't care that he is a man, to be honest I find him easier to talk to than all of the social workers. He knows more about me than all the other services, and I know that when I am feeling even a wee bit down I can speak to him."

For further information contact Marina Shaw at