Families and Imprisonment

The families of people in prison are a forgotten group. There is very little support for the partners, children and extended family when someone enters custody, despite a wealth of evidence which shows effective support at this stage results in better outcomes for the family, the person in prison, and the wider community. Providing support for families affected by imprisonment not only improves the mental health and financial capability of that family, but can also have a positive impact on the mental health of the person in prison and contributes to effective resettlement when they re-enter the community – thereby greatly reducing the risk of re-offending and helping to create safer communities.

Worryingly, there is no statutory responsibility for the children of people in prison; this is in spite of the UN and others identifying this group as particularly vulnerable with complex needs, as they are more susceptible to bullying, isolation, poor mental health and anti-social behaviour. Statistically, children who have had a parent in prison are more likely to offend during their lifetime; they are also more likely to develop mental health problems and suffer academic underachievement. There is often a cyclical nature to offending behaviour: without family support, people who come out of prison are more likely to offend again; moreover, the children of these people are also more likely to offend too.

The NIACRO project Family Links is an effective intervention in this area. It provides invaluable support to families affected by imprisonment, who can be faced with unprecedented financial and emotional stress while coming to terms with the often alien and intimidating environment of the prison system. However, until there is statutory recognition of the vulnerable mental, financial and social situation of families affected by imprisonment, critical resources and funds will continue to be diverted from this important service and our reach will be at best restricted and, at worst, terminated.

We therefore call on the Assembly to recognise the needs of this forgotten group and protect them from the ‘silent sentence’ handed down to the innocent families of people in prison.

Download Policy Briefing - Families and Children Affected by Imprisonment