Taxpayers Alliance Criticises APVU Scheme
Our response to The Courier article in which the Taxpayers Alliance criticised the work of the Assisted Prison Visists’ Unit (feel free to copy!):
Dear Ms Smyth,
I read your article of 26 March (Fund To Pay For Prison Visits Comes Under Fire) with interest, as supporting families to maintain contact with loved ones in prison is the core of our work. Families Outside is a national Scottish charity that works exclusively on behalf of families affected by imprisonment. Families of prisoners are unfortunately an easy target, as they tend not to speak up about how this devastating experience affects them. For your readers who believe support for travel to prisons should be cut, I would like to highlight a few key facts:
- The families are not guilty. Children and families of prisoners suffer the consequences of someone else’s behaviour; we are literally punishing the innocent. Indeed, children and families of prisoners are often targeted and blamed for an offence as though they are the guilty ones.
- Prisoners who maintain contact with their families while in prison reoffend up to six times less than those who don’t. Family contact literally reduces crime – and what we all want is to prevent someone from becoming the next victim.
- About half of prisoners lose contact with their families as a direct result of going to prison. Difficulties for families in travel and transport to prison, and the cost of this, is a major reason for this loss of contact.
- Funding from APVU covers the cost of only two visits a month. When someone is in custody on remand, the family can have daily visits of half an hour, so the fund covers a fraction of their visits entitlement. Not long ago we supported a lady who’s partner was on remand in HMYOI Polmont (Scotland’s national facility for young people in prison). She lived in Dumfries and travelled every day with her two toddlers up to see her partner in Polmont – a journey that took 5 hours on public transport. With APVU only covering two of those visits, she was putting herself in considerable financial difficulties to maintain contact with her partner, and to ensure that her children were able to see their dad.
- Claimants have to be on benefits, and they have to produce receipts stamped by the prison to prove that they have taken their visit. Only 2nd class travel directly to and from the prison is covered, with mileage reimbursed at 11p per mile (compared to the 40p per mile business travellers can claim). Your article made this clear, so the scheme is highly unlikely to “be abused for other trips or lavish taxi journeys”. Prison visits are hardly a good ‘day out’ for the family.
- Surveys reveal that only 30-50% of families are aware that they can claim travel costs through the APVU scheme. An important part of our work is to raise awareness of the availability of such support.
- Children have the right to contact with their parents unless this is not in the child’s best interest. In the vast majority of cases we work with, children want to stay in touch with their parent in prison but often find it difficult to do so. Parents in prison are not automatically bad parents any more than those outside are automatically good ones. Scotland’s National Parenting Strategy highlights parents in prison as needing extra support to fulfil their role as parents; the APVU scheme is a (very) small part of that.
In challenging APVU as a waste of taxpayers’ money, the TaxPayers’Alliance takes an extremely short-sighted view of a very complex issue. Family contact is our greatest asset in preventing offending and reoffending; supporting this contact where appropriate is worth every penny.
Prof Nancy Loucks
Chief Executive, Families Outside
A shortened version of this response was subsequently published online in The Courier:
‘The families are not guilty’ — Charity defends assisted jail visit fund