Imprisoned fathers can remain "integral part of family life"

A new report has called for a pilot scheme developing a more family supportive environment within prisons to be expanded

A new report has found that fathers can remain an integral part of family life while serving time in prison.

A pilot scheme undertaken at Limerick Prison has found that developing a more family supportive environment within the prison can improve communication and relationships within families, increase conflict resolution skills and decrease prisoner’s chances of re-offending.

The ‘Family Links’ programme, evaluated by the University of Limerick (UL), took place over 18 months and included 15 families with 28 children whose fathers were in prison.

The authors of the report, UL Professor Orla Muldoon and PhD candidate Daragh Bradshaw, said the fathers had gained an improved understanding of their role as fathers and parents and an improved understanding of the difficulties their families are facing on the outside.

They said international research has shown that maintaining imprisoned fathers’ contact with their partners and children can reduce re-offending and protect vulnerable children from criminal careers.

Prison Officer Jason Deasy, who was involved in the programme, said he saw a huge difference in prisoners who took part:

“The powerlessness they felt before they did the course is gone,” he said. “Because they would have had the attitude of, ‘sure I am in jail, what can I do? I can’t help you on the outside’”

“By doing this programme they realise that they are an integral part of their own family and they can support them.”

The report highlighted the fact that separate research in Britain found that imprisoned fathers who maintained a positive relationship with their children were six times less likely to re-offend.

The programme is now likely to be expanded into other prisons around the country and Michael Donnellan, director general of the Irish Prison Service said the programme is in line with the service’s “commitment to support families affected by parental incarceration.”

“Families on the margins are those most in need,” he said. “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 Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald said the programme - the first trial of its type in Ireland - is “highly innovative in many aspects” and recognised its potential to reduce reoffending and impact upon multi-generational offending.