Nineteen out of 20 children forced to leave home if their mother goes to prison

Written by Jenni Davidson on 4 July 2018 in News

A new report from the Prison Reform Trust highlights the plight of children whose mothers are sent to prison

Child crying - Image credit: ellyn via Flickr

Nineteen out of 20 children whose mothers are sent to prison have to leave their home, according to a new report.

The report by the Prison Reform Trust highlights the plight of children with a mother in prison, who are “invisible” in the systems that are meant to care for them, the charity claims.

It also suggests that the treatment of those children is in contravention of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and recent Council of Europe recommendations for the care of children of prisoners.

Given that mothers are most often the primary carer, maternal imprisonment can affect not only that relationship, but also the child’s housing, health, wellbeing and education, the trust has found.

With only five per cent remaining in their own home, and just nine per cent cared for by their father, many children whose mother is sent to prison experience having to change carers, schools and being separated from siblings.

Grandparents are often left as the default carers without any specific support, the trust says.

It also notes that children with a mother in prison feel especially stigmatised compared to those with a father in prison.

While there are no specific statistics for Scotland about the number of children affected, it is thought that 65 per cent of female prisoners have children.

Commenting on the findings, Jenny Earle, director of the Prison Reform Trust’s Transforming Lives Programme to Reduce Women’s Imprisonment, said: "This report lays bare the devastating impact on children of mothers' imprisonment.

“Children are completely innocent and yet are being cruelly punished by a criminal justice system which is blind to their needs.

“Children should be at the centre of decision-making not an after-thought.”

The report sets out a series of recommendations for government, councils, the media, police, children’s commissioners, criminal justice social work, children and family social workers, courts, prisons and schools.

Recommendations include creating a framework for identifying these children, including better data collection; child impact assessments whenever a mother is involved in the criminal justice system; councils recognising children affected by imprisonment, especially maternal imprisonment, as a distinct vulnerable group; and social workers mitigating barriers to children having contact with their mother.

It also recommends a presumption against prison sentences of less than 12 months and minimising imprisonment for primary carers, as well as financial and practical support for kinship carers who have to stand in while a mother is in prison.

Some of these issues are already on the agenda in Scotland.

In March, the Scottish Sentencing Council held an event looking at the consideration of children in sentencing of parents, with agreement to look at the issue further.

The Scottish Government has already committed to a presumption against prison sentences of less than a year.

However, Scotland has the highest proportion of women prisoners in the UK and one of the highest overall numbers of prisoners per capita in Europe.

In the latest figures from 29 June 2018 there were 373 women in prison in Scotland, making up 4.9 per cent of the total prison population.

Almost two-thirds of women in prison in Scotland are on remand and in 2015-16 89 per cent received a sentence of 12 months or less, the majority for non-violent crimes.

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