Children with a parent in prison

Lord Farmer Report

The average “man-in-the-street” (and I am one of those) probably doesn’t spend time wondering about the effect on a child of having a parent in prison, but Lord Farmer has just released a study which partly looks at that very thing. His report is entitled “The Importance of Strengthening Female Offenders' Family and other Relationships to Prevent Reoffending and Reduce Intergenerational Crime” . It is available in full at the Government website: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/farmer-review-for-women

Below are several quotes taken from the Report that offer a window into some of the concerns.

Lord Farmer states, for example,:

‘We know that there is an impact on families and children when a woman is involved in the CJS [Criminal Justice System] and that children of imprisoned mothers may be particularly affected by a custodial sentence. This review will enable us to understand what specific measures we can take to strengthen family ties, especially with their children, whilst serving sentences in the community, in custody and after they arereleased.”

The Review aimed, among other things, to learn about:

What works to help female offenders, their families and especially their children, to maintain and even improve family ties, where appropriate, while serving a custodial or community sentence, or post-release.

and

The challenges of mothering and fulfilling this primary carer role either whilst at a distance from their children or in the community.

It recognises “Women are more likely to be primary carers and mothers in prison experience significant anxiety because of the separation from their children. This impacts on their mental health and their responses to prison regimes, discipline and interventions. Unless and until women are reassured about their children they are unable to make progress in other areas.”

One of the Recommendation was:

“Each prison to provide a physical space where women can spend private time with family members and significant others…”

Another was, perhaps, more controversial:

“The Women’s estate in its entirety to be prioritised for roll-out of virtual visits with all women routinely able to use facilities, where there are no security concerns, because of the disproportionately positive impact on children. There must be secure video conference facilities available in location managed by other government departments.”

But actual visits create a win-win situation - since the Ministry Of Justice’s own figures show “that for a prisoner (male or female) who receives visits from a family member the odds of reoffending are 39% lower than for those who do not.”

Lord Farmer notes that “Children frequently have to leave their family home and their education is disrupted when their mother goes into custody, indicating the tremendous and tragic upheaval to the whole family of maternal imprisonment. “

And the Review quotes Dr Shona Minson as saying:

When a mother is in prison her primary source of stress and anxiety comes from worry about the wellbeing of her children. As the mother/primary carer she needs to know that her children are being given appropriate supports in the community and have the ability to continue to parent from within prison.'

AND

‘It is important to understand how complex mothers’ relationships with children will be. For women who are mothers it is their dependents who come to see them. Not their equals or peers or supportive others. It is the people they are responsible for. This therefore means that visits are set within the emotions of guilt, shame etc and their visitors come with equally complex emotions.'

In a section related to community orders, the Farmer Report states:

“The combination of support and accountability offered by a community sentence can be invaluable to women with complex needs and offending behaviour. Where a community sentence has been given it is essential that women whose criminogenic needs include relationships – and we know that the vast majority are in this position – receive the necessary help so this is no longer the case. Relationships are the foundation stone she can build her new life upon and all women need this to be an explicit element in their rehabilitation. Yet many women have endured devastating experiences in this area.”

An interesting German example is given in connection with Half-way houses

In response to the increasing number of mothers in prison, Germany introduced community-based accommodation or half-way houses for many female offenders. Mothers and children live together in these houses: children up to 3 years old can stay with mothers in closed conditions and up to 6 years in open conditions.

The women are given a curfew and must stay within the house in the evenings and overnight but during the day they access prison training, education, and support while their children attend nursery or school. This integrated approach combines imprisonment and welfare, while protecting the rights and welfare of the children of offenders. All staff in these houses, including prison officers, have background studies in a relevant caring profession.

Social workers are involved throughout, but particularly in the last six months of her time in the half-way house when social workers from the area where the mother will live will attend meetings in the prison.

These do not resemble prisons: there are no bars on the windows or fences and they are designed to be as open as possible. Many children are unaware they are in a prison. Prison staff do not wear uniform as they want the environment to be as normal and unthreatening as possible. If a woman disobeys a rule or behaves problematically staff attempt to resolve the situation with her without the child being present: they take the view that mothers who are seen being punished will lose their authority over their children and the relationship will be damaged.

Participants having a significantly lower rate of reoffending than women who are not housed with their children.

These are just a few points taken from a very full report which gives many, many recommendations. It’s good to know that such a review has taken place and has addressed the many problems thrown up for a child whose has a parent in prison.