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Norfolk and Cambridgeshire PCCs support Storybook Dads project

Children with a parent in prison will be able to see and hear their mum or dad reading them a bedtime story thanks to a project being supported by the Police and Crime Commissioners of Norfolk and Cambridgeshire.

Having a parent in prison can have a big impact on children, and being able to maintain a positive relationship with their mum or dad in prison is vitally important for their mental health and emotional wellbeing. As well reducing the harm experienced during childhood, strong family ties can have an impact on the decisions they make in later life – including the likelihood they will follow in their parents’ footsteps and enter the criminal justice system themselves.

It has also been shown that prisoners who are able to maintain contact with their families while in prison are less likely to re-offend when they are released, improving the outlook for families as a whole and reducing the number of people affected by criminal behaviour.

Keeping in contact from behind bars can be difficult at any time but during the pandemic it has been particularly challenging as prisons introduce restrictions and new ways of working to keep staff, prisoners and visitors safe.

With children already feeling the impact of local lockdowns, disrupted schooling and access to support services, isolation from wider family groups and social networks, it is more important than ever to support and help build positive relationships between prisoners and their children.

Recognising the role of these positive relationships in reducing offending – both by the parents on release from prison and by their children in later life –Norfolk PCC Lorne Green and Cambridgeshire PCC Ray Bisby have joined forces with HM Prisons Norwich and Peterborough to enhance the Storybook Dads/ Mums service available to prisoners.

Storybook Dads/ Mums enables parents in prison to record bedtime stories and messages for their children, helping to heal rifts and build relationships.

Norfolk PCC Lorne Green said: “Children who experience parental imprisonment suffer a number of harms during ‘normal’ times but, in the challenging circumstances under which we are all currently living, those harms and difficulties can be amplified.

“As 2020 draws to a close and we head into a new year, I’m proud to be working in collaboration with partners to support the most vulnerable in our communities to go forward with new hope for a better future. By helping to maintain and strengthen ties between parents in prison and their children, we can not only reduce the number of prisoners who reoffend, but also reduce the harm inflicted as a result of criminal behaviour.”

Declan Moore, Governor of HMP Norwich, said: “Many of us parents take for granted the great comfort and emotional bonding that is gained from reading stories for and with our children.  With mum or dad in custody, both the parent and the child, suffer the loss of that intimate, precious relationship.

“For many years, prisoners have been able to create audio recordings of themselves reading to their children. Now with the generosity of funding from the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Norfolk, we can enhance that connection by advancing into the world of video. That will allow the children to see their parent as they are listening to the story.

“The value of this is potentially inestimable. Thanks are due to PCC Lorne Green and to Spurgeon’s Family Services for joining the Prison Service in bringing this compassionate development to fruition.”

Naomi Webb, Family Services Manager at HMP Norwich, added: “Spurgeon’s Children’s Charity at HMP Norwich is delighted to have received support from the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Norfolk to be able to extend our Storybook Dads Project to include video recordings.

“With support from the prison and the generous donation from the PCC, dads in custody at HMP Norwich will now be given the opportunity to appear on film reading their children a bedtime story, supporting them to remain in contact with their children whilst providing reassurance and ultimately better outcomes for the child affected by parental imprisonment.”

David Smart, Acting Director at HMP Peterborough, said: “Storybook Dads/ Mums has proven to be invaluable since it began at HMP Peterborough, maintaining and strengthening the essential connection between parents and their children while they are separated.

“The disruption to social visits caused by the pandemic has made maintaining contact even more challenging over the past nine months, so for children of our residents to actually see their parent reading the story will be a very positive step towards rebuilding and reinforcing those family bonds,” he added.

“This investment will be beneficial to residents as well as their family members, helping to create a greater sense of still ‘belonging’ to their emotional support network. This is an essential part of Sodexo’s work for providing quality of life services to those in our care.”

Acting Cambridgeshire PCC Ray Bisby said: “Reading a bedtime story to children is something many of us take for granted however for children with parents in prison, this is an activity they miss out on. Given the current restrictions on visiting, together with the importance of the mental health of those in custody and their children, I am very pleased to contribute to this project.

“It may be a small amount of money but the impact on both prisoners and their children is priceless. Reducing reoffending is a key pillar of my Police and Crime Plan.”

Sharon Berry, Founder and CEO of Storybook Dads, said: “We are delighted to hear of this funding for HMP Norwich and HMP Peterborough to purchase video equipment to enhance their Storybook Dads/ Mums provision.

“Both prisons have been members of Storybook Dads for many years and have helped hundreds of prisoners and their families to keep in touch through audio stories. Being able to film parents reading a story will make it even more special for the children.”

A total of £1,050 will be split equally between Spurgeon’s Family Services at HMP Norwich and Sodexo which runs HMP Peterborough. Norfolk’s PCC’s contribution is £825, to purchase equipment to further enhance the existing Storybook Dads/ Mums provision at both HM Prisons Norwich and Peterborough. HMP Norwich is a male-only prison. Norfolk women, in the main, are incarcerated in HMP Peterborough.

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