Families and children will be able to ‘visit’ their female relatives in prison from the comfort of their own homes, thanks to a new VACRO program funded by the Department of Justice and Community Safety – Corrections Victoria. 

The two-year Family Visits Program will commence in July 2021 at Tarrengower Prison and the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre, and expects to connect 150 incarcerated women with their families via fortnightly or weekly video calls each year. 

It builds on a successful pilot program run by VACRO at Tarrengower Prison between 2017 and 2019 funded by the Myer Foundation, Campbell Edwards Trust and the Kimberley Foundation. 

Key points: 
  • VACRO is thrilled to start a two-year Family Visits Program with funding from the Department of Justice and Community Safety – Corrections Victoria. 
  • Families participating in this program can visit women in prison via video call, without having to travel to a prison to visit. 
  • The program supports women and their families to have positive and meaningful visits that keep relationships strong. 

VACRO CEO Marius Smith said virtual video visits offered a more intimate and less stressful alternative to in-person visits, and kept mothers involved in their children’s daily lives. 

“We know video visits make children feel more comfortable and relaxed,” he said. 

They open up and have the kind of real conversations that don’t flow freely in a clinical, crowded prison hall. And the mums get the chance to actively parent – if the kids have problems, or they’re acting up, the mum can step in to help or set boundaries. The calls help keep the parent-child relationship strong. 

In addition to technically connecting visitors’ calls, the program will provide socio-emotional support and family engagement recommendations to incarcerated women and their families, to enable meaningful visits and keep relationships strong. 

Marius said virtual visits are an important addition to the in-person visits available at prisons. 

“Our evaluation of the pilot program showed that video visits aren’t better or worse than in-prison visits. They’re different, and we believe that all kids should have access to both.” 

Research shows strong family bonds are one of the key factors in reducing a person’s risk of reoffending after release from prison. The Family Visits Program is expected to provide new opportunities for meaningful family visits – which can improve children’s happiness and wellbeing; increase mothers’ confidence in their parenting abilities; and improve reintegration outcomes for people leaving prison. 

VACRO is grateful to the Department of Justice and Community Safety – Corrections Victoria for its support for this important work. 

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