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Prison Room

Mothers' Union Prison Work

Mothers' Union carries out vital work supporting families in the UK prison system

04 Aug 2020

An often overlooked dimension of those affected by the prison system within the UK is the families of prisoners. Almost 150 years ago, Mary Sumner recognised that families are the fabric tying society together. It is in this same vein that the movement she initiated works to assist families in need.

Mothers’ Union (MU) today works to serve families in all forms without prejudice no matter their situation. This includes the families of people who have been incarcerated and now find themselves having to engage with the prison system.

Prison work is varied

MU’s prison work across Britain and Ireland takes various forms. However, the main aim is clear, to keep families together. It is not simple work, it is ever-changing. The politics and processes within the network of domestic prisons make up a constantly shifting landscape. As prison governors are replaced and new directives come into force, those who work with the residents of prisons and their families must adapt their approach to secure continued access.

MU members provide support to those visiting prisons by holding short courses on what they can expect from a first visit. This is essential in relaxing visitors so that they can get the most out of their time with the prison residents. They also hold workshops which involve many of the services that come into contact with the families. By collecting stories from parents and children already within the system, they are able to highlight ongoing day to day issues, and provide more targeted support.

Once a month at Onley prison in Coventry there are Family Days when a maximum of twenty prisoners have their families come for a few hours. The prisoners can play with their children and cuddle them which is not allowed on normal visits. Coventry Diocese MU pay for buffet food at these Family Days.

In addition to the family days, at Christmas Coventry MU members buy presents or donate new toys for visiting children to have a present from Father Christmas (who is one of the officers dressed up). This helps the children to form positive associations with the overall experience.

In Low Newton, an all women prison in Durham, the focus is on supporting the prison residents. MU actually holds services for them where they can participate in prayers, readings and hymns. This is followed by a general update on MU information and a cup of tea and a chat, where more pastoral support is provided.

MU members put together packs for when they are coming up for their release, containing toiletries and other household essentials. The work of MU in Low Newton is key in building trust and encouraging people who have been through the prison system once, to work hard not to reoffend.

The main aim is supporting Families

As can be seen from the activities in the prisons outlined here, prison work is varied but has protecting families at its core. Unfortunately, much of this prison work is on hold at the moment due to necessary restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. As soon as they are able to, members up and down the country will be continuing this vital effort.

It is important not to forget the role of prison officers who are working hard to keep prisoners safe during this challenging season. They are key workers and must have found the last few months particularly challenging. MU has launched a Thank You Key Workers appeal to raise funds to support families of key workers to have short breaks or experience days.

Find out more about our Thank You Key Workers Appeal