On 14 February, 2020 there were 83, 626 men and women in prison in the UK, according to government statistics.

Currently used estimations, based on data from 2008, put the number of children of prisoners in England and Wales at 200,000. However, new methodology used by crime and justice specialist Crest (detailed in its Children of Prisoners: Fixing a Broken System report) takes into account changes in the prison population and the profile of that population thus estimating that that 312,000 children are affected by parental imprisonment in the UK  each year; a number way in excess of the estimate that has been in use for over a decade now.

high prison wall with barbed wire fencing

It’s important to acknowledge that custody is necessary and important for public protection, including where the family themselves are the victims of a parent’s crimes and a child’s welfare necessitates separation from that parent. But when that is not the case, it should not be so difficult for children and their families to survive the effects of parental imprisonment. Children of incarcerated parents are often described as victims of a “hidden sentence” – the love a child has for a parent is instinctive, transcending crime. The embarrassment, loneliness, anger and hurt children might feel in relation to a parent in prison or a parent who is simply not around (sometimes parents don’t even tell their children they are serving time) is a hefty burden to bear.

Research by Crest suggests that a majority of offenders are parents, and 54 per cent have children under 18 when they enter custody; seven per cent of children will experience their parent’s imprisonment during their time at school and 45 per cent of prisoners lose contact with their family whilst in prison.

This is where our Kids Matter parenting programme hopes to make a real difference to families in prison. Parent-child contact from the confines of a prison cell is sporadic but don’t underestimate the impact that a parent can have on a child even if conversation is by phone and visitation is regulated; we hope to inspire positive interactions with our evidence-based programme material and facilitated group conversations. If we can equip prison parents with the tools to build strong relationships with their children, those children will have a better chance of increased wellbeing in life.

Have a look at these 5 reasons why interventions in prison are important:

1) Invest in our fellow human beings

The thought of working/volunteering in a prison is typically met with trepidation but the truth is that once you’ve gone through security and passed all the barbed wire, you’ll find yourself in a room with a group of normal people; human beings who have had different life experiences to you. Coming into prison off the back of a prison sentence can be a traumatic experience (the emotional intensity and confined space), which quite often accentuates any pre-existing mental health issues or psychological pressure on people in prison – guilt, anger, fear, anxiety etc. Therefore, we, as individuals and churches, should work to support and invest in those who are incarcerated. These men and women are often marginalised and shunned by society, making it all the more important that we step up and look after them. This is a biblical mandate, Jesus himself says, ‘I was in prison and you came to visit me’ (Matthew 25:36).

2) Strengthening family ties reduces the likelihood of re-offending by 39 per cent

The Lord Farmer Review entitled The Importance of Strengthening Prisoners’ Family Ties to Prevent Reoffending and Reduce Intergenerational Crime sheds light on and emphasises the importance of the role that strong family ties play in the experience of someone in prison. The research shows that strengthening family ties reduces the likelihood re-offending by 39 per cent (1 May C., Sharma N. and Stewart D., (2008). Factors linked to re-offending: a one-year follow-up of prisoners who took part in the Resettlement Surveys 2001, 2003 and 2004. London: Ministry of Justice). This possibility means that the people released, their families and society are benefited. It makes sense then that priority is placed on the strengthening those family ties. This is the aim of our Kids Matter parenting programme, to help provide parents with the confidence, competence and community they need to be the parents they want to be – despite the circumstance of prison.

3) Improved family ties improves mental wellbeing and behaviour

The Farmer review also helpfully shows us that with improved family ties, comes improved mental well-being and behaviour – ‘Lack of contact with families was viewed as a key factor in violence, self-harm, suicide and the deterioration of mental health’ (Lord Farmer Review, p. 13). Having positive contact with their families can provide people in prison with much needed support and hope.

4) Break the cycle of inter-generational offending

Children of people in prison are also highly affected by the separation that prison inflicts. It can be a traumatising event to experience; causing real strain on the parent-child relationship and greatly increasing the likelihood of the child also going to prison. Providing interventions in prison, specifically family focused ones, can help ease the strain on children and help to protect them from the possibility of prison. One parent who experienced the Kids Matter parenting programme in prison said, ‘I’m glad I’m doing this (KM) because going to prison was normal for me and I don’t want it to be normal for my kids.’ This awareness is key to prisoners supporting their children well.

5) All of the above actually saves society a lot of money

If none of the above has convinced you, investing in people in prison can actually save society a lot of money. In a 2019 report, it was found that the economic and social cost of people re-offending was £18.1 billion (Newton et al. Ministry of Justice Analytical Series, 2019). In 2011, a New Philanthropy Capitol report found that one person re-offending costs the state and society £94,526 (Johnson et al., Unlocking Value: The Economic Benefit of The Arts in Criminal Justice, 2011). By supporting people in prison, you are also supporting society.

If you would like to find out more about Kids Matter’s Prison Programme, we would love to chat! Please contact us at info@kidsmatter.org.uk. 

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