Missing Out – Action For Prisoners’ Families
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Bolton
Unit of AssessmentEnglish Language and Literature
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Studies In Human Society: Criminology, Social Work
Summary of the impact
In 2008 Mary Cooper was commissioned by Clean Break Theatre, London and
Action for Prisoners'
Families (APF) to write a short drama which would address issues
particular to women in prison and
their families. The drama toured women's prisons in 2009. In 2010 Cooper
was commissioned to adapt
the stage play as a short film, which went on to win the IVCA Gold Award
for Best Drama 2010. It is
now widely recommended by leading charities and agencies and regularly
used as a training tool
throughout England and Wales to increase understanding of family
relationships within prisoners'
Action For Prisoners' Families is a nationwide membership organisation
for those interested in the
wellbeing of prisoners and offenders' families. It is well-known in the
sector for the quality and
innovation of the resources it produces.
In 2005 APF received funding from the Home Office after research showed
that prisoners who
maintained family ties while in prison were less likely to reoffend. The
research also suggested that
there was little understanding of the importance of family relationships
within the sector, and few
resources for training professionals within criminal justice to work with
prisoners' families. APF were
tasked with creating materials, for both prisoners and professionals,
which could be useful in supporting
and sustaining family relationships.
In 2005, as part of this, Cooper was commissioned to write a short play
looking at the moment of
release from prison and the difficulties faced by prisoners and their
families in readjusting to life
together. This play, Homeward Bound, was used at a national
conference to launch the National
Offender Management Service (NOMS) as well as touring prisons and playing
to prisoners' families in
2005, and retouring in 2006. Subsequently, it was made into a DVD and sold
from the APF website,
quickly selling out its first run, and being reprinted. The play was also
submitted as one of Cooper's
outputs for RAE 2008.
The success of Homeward Bound led to a second commission, Family
Business, looking at the
`transmission' of criminal behaviour across generations of the same
family. This toured schools, prisons
and Young Offenders' Institutions in 2007 and 2008, and again was made
into a DVD to be sold from
the APF website.
Homeward Bound had been shown at two women's prisons. These visits
provoked discussion about
the different impact of incarceration on women and men, and their
families. For example, while 85% of
men's partners looked after their children while they were in prison, only
25% of women's partners did
so. Women prisoners `demanded' a play of their own. Missing Out
was the result.
References to the research
Action for Prisoners' Families combined with Clean Break Theatre company,
London, to produce the
first incarnation of the drama. This was performed in women's prisons by
women who had a history of
involvement with the criminal justice system.
It is now widely recommended as a training resource throughout the UK.
Mention of the film occurs on
the following websites: Parenting UK, the Wave Trust, The Centre for
Separated Families, Prisoner
Action Net, Revolving Doors, Social Care Online, and Families Outside.
Details of the impact
Missing Out was initially given a rehearsed reading with
professional actors in Peterborough prison,
summer 2008. After rewrites it was directed by Anna Herrman and performed
by graduates from Clean
Break Theatre's acting courses. These women have a history of imprisonment
or record of involvement
with the Criminal Justice system. The play toured prisons and training
conferences for professionals
October-November 2008 and received very positive feedback.
In terms of the immediate impact of the performance, the stage version
enabled women in prison to
see how former inmates had turned their lives around through the creative
arts. For the actors, it
provided an opportunity to have their journey acknowledged. For both
professionals and inmates, it
provoked discussion of crucial questions regarding prisoners' families
which are very often avoided for
fear of `upsetting the girls'. In conference and training settings, the
play raised questions about good
practice in maintaining links between prisoners and their children, and
provoked discussion about
sentencing policies for women. Grandparents' and parents' group members
commented that, for the
first time, their point of view — that of grandparents looking after their
grandchild while the mother
serves her sentence — was being publically and accurately presented.
In 2009, due to further demand for the show, Action For Prisoners'
Families raised funds for Missing
Out to be professionally produced (Knifedge Productions) as a short
film. Cooper worked with the
director, Tom Hadley, and the producer, Jonathon Bridgden, to adapt the
play for the screen. The film
was very well received and entered for the International Visual
Communications Award. It was Highly
Commended in the Best Directors Award Category and won the IVCA Best Drama
Award, 2010. As a
result, it is now in the collection at the British Film Institute.
The tour of Missing Out to prisons led to further discussion
between Action for Prisoners' Families and
prisoners. One direct result of this was the decision to publish a series
of leaflets, Your children; Your
Rights, in collaboration with Rights of Women. These leaflets are
now available to all mothers in
prisons in the UK (http://www.rightsofwomen.org.uk/pdfs/Legal/Guide_to_Adoption_lo_res.pdf).
All three DVDS are still widely used in training. Lesley Dixon, APF
Regional Development Manager for
the North of England, said:
The DVDs are used all the time in training. They're used perhaps twice a
week in sessions for
professionals. These can include training for probation, police, health
social workers; right across the board. I've trained 60/70 people in
`training the trainer' sessions
this year who are given copies of the DVDs to use in their own training.
Homeward Bound, in particular, has had a huge impact, with
feedback along the lines of the following
comment: `Excellent DVD. Made me think of issues I wouldn't otherwise be
Sandra Wells, formerly Manager of the Visitor Centre at Styal Prison, now
founder and co-ordinator of
the Cheshire Support Cheshire Group, said, `The APF DVDs are the first
thing I will show volunteers for
the organisation. They are a brilliant way of introducing the experiences
of prisoners' families, to people
who may have never thought about these questions, and because they are
dramas, they hit home.
When I work with the Youth Offending Teams in the region I will always
suggest they buy the DVDs
from APF for training.'
Child Protection trainer, David Gammage, formerly responsible for all
child protection training for Action
for Children, previously known as National Childrens Homes, commented:
I use Missing Out regularly in training. I must have used it with
more than 500 people over the
last three years. These are intensive training sessions for a mixture of
professionals who are
involved in child protection and child support; for example, family centre
learning mentors, drug workers and family support workers. The film raises
complex issues in a sensitive and truthful way, creating empathy,
stimulating discussion and
enabling professionals to review their own practice. In particular, I use
it as a case study to
assist professionals in analysing increasing levels of risk to children in
a family setting. It's both
compelling as drama and effective as a tool for change.
Action for Prisoners' families are currently considering updating the
DVDs in line with recent legislation.
They have also talked about a further production (pending funding) on
Orders. Cooper is now working on a radio drama series based on the
workings of the Parole Board,
and the tension between the need for cuts (shorter/community sentencing)
and Home Office policy of
being seen to administer 'tough' sentencing.
Sources to corroborate the impact
These are listed under 3, above.