Strengthening families and promoting marriage should be at the heart of penal reform, a Conservative Peer has argued.
Speaking at the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) earlier this week, Michael Farmer urged policy-makers to recognise “the huge contribution” of “stable and well-functioning families” to prevent crime and reduce reoffending.
In a Government-commissioned study in 2017, the Peer identified family relationships as the “simple principle of reform that needs to be a golden thread running through the prison system”.
In his CSJ speech, Lord Farmer warned that “the fabric of our relational life is becoming increasingly threadbare – almost half of all children do not grow up with both their parents.
Consequently, he continued, “a high percentage grow up with enduring parental conflict and or in stepfamilies which are very hard for all parties to navigate, but particularly children”.
The Government, he argued, had “added fuel to this fire by introducing no fault divorce”. He asked: “What do the promises in the marriage vows mean if one person can simply file online and the other has no legal means of stopping the divorce process?”
The Christian Institute and pro-marriage group Coalition for Marriage (C4M), of which the CI is a part, both campaigned against the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020, which came into effect last year.
“The Government is making a huge mistake ploughing on with these reckless changes – a mistake that will be measured not just by cold official statistics, but by broken families and ruined lives.C4M, April 2022
The Peer went on to explain that “children who grow up with non-biological father-substitutes” are twice as likely to get involved in crime, and “75% of young offenders did not grow up with both parents”.
He said, a “full quarter of all those in our prisons spent time in local authority care, ” before adding: “Around half of prisoners have no family visits and no reliable love: nobody is there for life in the way a supportive family is”.
Yet, he said, the data shows that prisoners who receive family visits “are 39% less likely to reoffend than those who do not”.
Lord Farmer continued: “It’s time to start being respectfully honest but unapologetic about the benefits to children and wider society of being raised in a low-conflict, caring home with both biological parents.
“We need to do far more to prevent families from fracturing and becoming completely dysfunctional. Strengthening families when they are struggling must be at the heart of a crime prevention response.”
Nor can we, he said, “swerve the differences between right and wrong which are the responsibility of parents – fathers as well as mothers – to reinforce throughout childhood.”