This guest blog by Kieran Ball, Co-Founder of Prison Voicemail, looks at the findings of the Farmer Review and an example of how technology can be used in prison to strengthen family ties.
The recent review by Lord Farmer on prisoners’ family ties voices support for the use of technology improving contact between prisoners and their families. As the social venture behind Prison Voicemail, this has been our mission for the past two years. We are therefore excited to be able to present the results of the first independent evaluation of our service to Clinks’ members.
Currently available in one hundred prisons across England and Wales, Prison Voicemail enables approved family members to exchange regular voicemails with loved ones in prison through the existing prison phone system. Family members can leave messages at any time using our mobile app, and prisoners dial a landline number to listen and reply to messages.
Although testimonial feedback on the service has been overwhelmingly positive, like many of Clinks’ members we are determined to avoid ‘doing for the sake of doing’ and instead focus on the outcomes of our interventions. A significant body of evidence exists to support the impact of family ties on reducing self-harm and reoffending, yet little research exists on the direct impact of technology in this area.
Earlier this year Lincoln University designed a survey to send to prisoners and family members who use the Prison Voicemail service. It received 81 prisoner responses and 77 family responses, representing 56 prisons across England and Wales. 18 of the family surveys were followed-up with long-form interviews, and the results were analysed and themes distilled by PhD student Lauren Mumby and Professor Todd Hogue.
The key findings were as follows:
- Both families and prisoners were extremely positive about the service, reporting significant impacts on their health and well-being, relationships, and ability to resolve practical issues
- Prisoners reported positive impacts on their behaviour and likelihood of reoffending. 63% said voicemails help them to behave better in prison
- 96% of prisoners and 97% of families said voicemail makes them feel better
- 83% of prisoners and 93% of families said their relationships are better as a result of voicemail.
The qualitative responses from the surveys and follow-up interviews provided further insights, with the researchers identifying several recurring themes:
- Prison Voicemail reduces worry for both parties: “It’s particularly useful if I’m going to be out because if he can’t get hold of me then he panics. I leave a message and he knows I’m fine…” (Interview 17).
- In situations where family members work, or in prisons with restrictive regimes/limited phone access, it is vital: “He only gets between half past six by the time I get home and seven o’clock to phone me if he can get chance to get on a phone but then he’s got all day to listen to his messages. If there’s anything important I need to tell him... I can leave messages on voicemail and he can pick them up so it’s really good.” (Interview 5).
- It is commonly used by families to provide support to the prisoner: “Just keeping in contact with him, making sure he knows he’s loved and missed... if he can’t phone me at least I can tell him every day that I love him... it does make you feel happy. Even though they’re in prison they still need to know that they’re loved and wanted.” (Interview 5).
- It is especially useful where children are involved, and can keep the prisoner involved in parenting: “If [our daughter, age 9] is having one of those days where she’s been naughty and sort of kicking off, I’ll say, ‘right I’m ringing your Dad’…he still feels part of the family and that he’s still very much important when it comes to discipline and ground rules... keeps him part of the family circle.” (Interview 9).
- It keeps the prisoner in touch with life outside: “We wanted to show by communications that life is still going on outside… trying to show him that outside is good and it’s worth not getting into trouble for. In the world outside we are still cracking on with life, there are some highlights and these are the bits you could be enjoying when you come out.” (Interview 15).
These findings show that technology can support many aspects of family relationships that the Farmer Review identified as important to reducing reoffending, limiting the intergenerational effects of imprisonment and improving safety in prisons. Our experience as a small and recently formed organisation has highlighted the positive change technology can achieve in a short time, and at relatively low cost.
We encourage Clinks’ members to use Lord Farmer’s review and the results of this evaluation to push for greater use of scalable technology to further its social impact.
Contact us on email@example.com.
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