Saturday, 28 March 2015

Long-Distance Relationships

It almost always begins with a missed call, at an inconvenient time of day, from an area code that I don't recognise. Eventually the phone will ring at a time when I can answer and OT will announce his latest location to me. This time I had never heard of it, it is at least three hours from home. We are trapped in a long-distance relationship again but the implications are more serious than a simple breakdown in communication, there are possible consequences for everyone.

You see, there are multiple reasons why the prison system in the UK doesn't work, particularly for children and young adults, and often the solutions seem so mind-bogglingly simple to those who love and support the prisoners. This example is nothing short of common sense - young people need to be imprisoned as close to home as possible. In fact not just young people, all people.

According to the Prison Reform Trust visits help prisoners maintain links with normal life, so they can adjust more easily on release. Research suggests that the likelihood of re-offending is 39% higher for prisoners that aren't visited compared to those who are. To be honest I don't think I need a statistic to know this is true, it just makes sense. If you know there is someone out there who cares enough about you to come and visit, you are likely to stay hopeful; keep out of trouble during your sentence and feel more confident that the support will remain when you come back out.

Returning to my own experience, I am the on-off carer/support worker/replacement mum/lifeline for a troubled 20 year-old lad who has virtually been brought up in prison (see Offending Behaviour for more about that.) His parents never visited, I always do. This has been an important factor in our relationship which has made him understand that there are people out there who will make an effort for him; who will be there no matter what; who will be slow to judge and see beyond the behaviour; who will go the extra mile - or an extra 120 miles after this latest move. Frequent visits and consistent support between periods in custody have enabled him to begin to form an appropriate attachment, which is essential if he has any hope of becoming less institutionalised and more able to cease offending.

Transforming Rehabilitation promised a return to more local prisons, then closed the one which is just a stone's throw from my front door and pushed through plans to build a massive battery-farmed prisoner factory in Wales which will serve half the UK and incarcerate sons, brothers, fathers and partners even further away from their families and support networks. Long-distance relationships are tough to maintain, when a loved one is locked up they are virtually impossible.

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