Family voice: Let families be an active part of the rehabilitation process in custody

"As the sister of a serving prisoner, I have seen first hand the transition someone takes from a YOI to adult institutions, and how education and family support provide the positive influence many people need in order to complete their sentence.

For the last 10 years, myself and my brother Carl have gained a lot of insight into the prison system and we both agree there is a lot of work that needs to be done to realign the focus of a jail term to rehabilitation rather then punishment.

At present, it seems like there is a clear disconnect between YOI and adult prisons when it comes to the perception of education. 'Not cool', 'weirdo', 'geek' are familiar words heard in a YOI used to identify people who wish to enrol in education. There is more attention given to establishing your status, and getting involved in unproductive activities which often lead to increased volatility, hostility and violence.

A YOI is a short term environment for people on lengthy sentences and the transition into an adult institution can be very difficult. If you get involved in the wrong crowd you can find yourself exposed to manipulation, pressurised to impresses and anxious about another unstable situation. Unless YOIs and adult institutions unite and coordinate programmes, they can't focus people's attention on making a change today that will positively impact their future.

It is common knowledge that people need incentives to involve themselves in activities. ‘It's fun’, ‘it will teach me something’, ‘it will make me stronger’, ‘it will open up other opportunities for me’...etc. For someone serving a sentence, and a very long one at that, it is so important to incentivise them and convince them that enrolling in education can only bring positivity. There has been mention of reducing sentences of those who partake and succeed in education, and I for one think this is an extremely powerful offering, one that will benefit the prisoner, society, the Prison system. They can align education to the future which is a great way to demonstrate positive rehabilitation. Also, letting families engage in this process provides further support to the prisoner and the Prison system and enables families to actively contribute to the rehabilitation process. Whether it's the introduction of a Learning Day, similar to family day, a joint course offering , learning a skill together, listening to a lecture, a way to combine efforts will encourage focus and determination, and these are the attitudes that society want to see in people leaving prison.

By introducing education in sentence plans, setting educational milestones, outlining what can be achieved over a 5, 10, 15, 30 year term, and holding both the prisoner and the prison service responsible for attaining these goals will ensure people better themselves, find themselves in better situations and better their chances for a good future.

I for one have seen the difference education has made to Carl and to our family watching him progress. He has successfully completed an honours degree, began studying for his masters, is a member of a number of committees aimed at improving the prison experience and has found real empowerment in his achievements. This is a real life example of what education can do for you and I hope other people can follow suit".