Launch of evaluation report on pilot Reach Out Programme - June 14th, 2022



Research shows such programmes help reduce re-offending and break cycle of intergenerational crime

Calls for programme to be mainstreamed throughout prison service and for improvements to be made to family visitation including longer and more regular phone calls as well as Family Days

An evaluation of the Reach Out pilot programme has shown that it helped improve the quality of communication and interaction between Mountjoy prisoners, their partners and children and contributed to strengthening their relationships. The evaluation report of the pilot Reach Out programme – which was developed by Archways on behalf of FusionCPL (Community Prison Link), an addiction service in Dublin’s Cherry Orchard which supports prisoners to make the best use of their sentence and to prepare for their release back in to the community – was launched today at a webinar involving prison staff and policy makers.

Kathy Watts, FusionCPL’s Manager, explained that research shows that families are often the main source of hope for people during their incarceration, the main support upon release and the primary barrier to repeat offending. In this context, Reach Out was developed to assist in prisoner rehabilitation by enabling prisoners to deepen their relationships with their children and partners from within the walls of the prison through modules on child development and communication and weekly mentoring sessions.

“The experience of prison can fragment a family. Studies have found that if prisoners lose contact with their children in the first three years of their sentence, re-engagement strategies with their children oftentimes prove unproductive. Likewise, research has shown that the absence of a strong family relationship upon release deprives the prisoner of a loving anchor which can effectively prevent re-offending.

“Early and sustained contact between the prisoner and their children in the initial phase of a jail sentence is therefore vital. The opportunities for prisoners and their children to retain positive contact is life-enhancing for the prisoner and – with proper engagement – can enable those in prison to positively shape the behaviour of their children, disrupting the cycle of intergenerational criminality and incarceration,” Kathy Watts said.

Archways, Dr. Seán McDonnell, who conducted the evaluation of the Reach Out programme said its findings showed:

  • Much higher degrees of personal awareness of the value of freedom to the prisoners and their families and equally the impact imprisonment has had on their families as a result deepening relationships between prisoners and their families;
  • Visits between prisoners and their families have become much more positive with much higher quality communication and interaction – especially listening by the prisoners;
  • Much greater openness, calmness and honesty between prisoners and their children;
  • Prisoners’ expectations and plans for themselves and their children were raised by the programme.

However, Dr. Seán McDonnell said that the evaluation also identified significant challenges with the visitation process – for both prisoners and family members.

“Visitation is a vulnerable time for families and the environment in which they take place is not suitable in terms of confidentiality, intimacy or comfort – indeed, the environment can be an active barrier to sensitive family communication. Those who took part in the Reach Out programme would like to see the range of family communication activities extended to include longer phone calls – including online calls – regular family days and hour-long visits for children with room for activities like playing sports. Such improvements in visitation would improve the part prisoners played in the family’s life,” Dr McDonnell said.

The Governor of the Mountjoy Progression Unit, Donnacha Walsh, expressed his support for the mainstreaming of the Reach Out programme throughout the prison service.

“We must use the experience of those people who are incarcerated to teach their children of the dangers of everyday living. Prisoners are uniquely placed to communicate this message and the evaluation of the Reach Out programme has captured the positive changes a prisoner can have on the lives of their children. The Reach Out programme has also captured the willingness of Mountjoy and the wider prison service to innovate and we must continue this process,” Governor Walsh concluded.


From left to right: Stacie Halligan (FusionCPL) and Governor Walsh (Progression Unit, Mountjoy Prison)

From left to right: Kathy Watts (FusionCPL) and Dr Sean McDonnell (Archways)