Having a family member in prison tends to make people more cautious about sharing, and online communications are often treated with suspicion. Families Disconnected by Prison, a scoping study funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, was designed to understand how families who have been separated by prison access online information which could help them to cope.
This eight month study engaged with two distinct communities of families separated by prison and used participatory research methods to explore particular barriers to engagement. Work with both communities identified information related to travel and financial support for travel as key and identified inappropriate support services and lack of relevant information as barriers to engaging with specific formal support services. The study concluded that low expectation of improvement in circumstances, not assuming an identity of help-seeker or help-receiver, and the need for forms of interaction other than those provided where the key barriers to engagement with the support available.
The researchers found that there were lots of things that families wanted to communicate about - often everyday things - and there wasn't a way for them to talk about everyday family life because the official prison visit is such a huge effort. Working with the families and an artist to generate a collage about their thoughts and feelings, the researchers showed that it is possible to help the families to express what they want to communicate but can't, and how isolated they feel. The collage formed a powerful intervention that is now used as a training tool across the country and displayed inside the prison itself.