Collaborative project offers support for families involved in justice system

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An innovative project aimed at improving support for the families of people involved in the justice system in Aberdeen will be launched this week.

Community Planning Aberdeen (CPA) has brought together three third sector organisations to offer important advice and information for families with relatives who are caught up in the criminal justice system.

Families Outside, Action for Children and Alcohol & Drugs Action will launch the ‘Keeping It Together’ project – the first of its kind in Scotland – at a special drop-in session at Aberdeen Sheriff Court tomorrow (13 December) from 1–2pm.

The event aims to raise awareness of the initiative among those working in the court environment, including sheriffs, solicitors, criminal justice social work staff, G4S and other court staff.

Families who become involved in the criminal justice system can suffer grief and stress throughout the course of arrest, trial, imprisonment and release. They often have difficulty getting the information and support they need to make them feel in control during this difficult time.

CPA Chair Councillor Jenny Laing said: “Improving outcomes for people involved in the justice system, their families and our wider communities is identified in Aberdeen’s Local Outcomes Improvement Plan as a priority for CPA’s community justice partners. We are proud to have launched this imaginative scheme, which will provide a whole range of vital support for people who are trying to deal with difficult and unfamiliar circumstances.”

Aberdeen City Council community justice officer Val Vertigans said: “The aim of the project is to try to engage with families at an early stage of the justice system, with a broader offer of support from Families Outside, the Action for Children-run Family Centre & Help Hub at HMP Grampian, and Alcohol & Drugs Action in Aberdeen. We have engaged with family members along the way to inform our approach – we heard from them that they would like information and support at an earlier stage and would also like to receive information in the form of leaflets or videos.”

Allister Purdie, Governor of HMP &Young Offenders Institution Grampian, said: “SPS recognise the negative impact that imprisonment can have on family life. That is why supporting and maintaining family links and promoting positive relationships while the family member is in prison is one of the SPS’s key priorities going forward. We recognise that such positive relationships can make a valuable contribution in supporting offenders to desist from further offending. HMP&YOI Grampian are delighted to work with our partners on this fantastic initiative.”

The project partners are all closely connected to the criminal justice system and bring a range of expertise and support options to families.

Action for Children manages the Family Centre & Help Hub at HMP & Young Offenders Institution Grampian, where staff offer direct support to families visiting the prison.

Alcohol & Drugs Action in Aberdeen gives families advice to prevent the harmful use of alcohol and drugs, as well as person-centred support to help those with problems to recover.

Families Outside is the only organisation in Scotland to work exclusively on behalf of families affected by imprisonment. They offer direct support to families through their helpline and via direct face-to-face support and also offer training to professionals who come into contact with families affected by imprisonment.

The group have created materials that highlight the combined support they can offer and are also launching a short film which walks a visitor through the experience of visiting someone in HMP Grampian.

The film is the first of its kind in Scotland and will play a key role in increasing understanding and awareness of prison visiting, not only for visitors but also for prisoners and professionals. There are many misconceptions about what it is like to visit a prison and what the role of a Visitor Centre is. Whilst every prison visiting experience is different, the film aims to answer a lot of questions about what can be a daunting and confusing time for visitors, especially children.

Pamela Simpson, Action for Children Practice Team Leader at HMP Grampian, said: “As the lead for this project, we are proud of the work we do in supporting families at what can be an extremely traumatic time.

“There are a number of misconceptions as to what a visit to prison is like and what the role of the visitor centre is. It is important that families are aware that support is there for them, what that support actually is as well as how they can access it.

“We hope that this film will increase both the understanding and awareness of prison visiting for visitors as well as for prisoners and professionals.”

The film has been made by SHMU who run a media project in HMP Grampian and work within the community in Aberdeen. The project partners were also supported by the Northsound One ‘Cash for Kids’ campaign, with radio presenters Jeff and Lauren appearing in the film.