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Category: Families

Urgent call to provide better support for kids with mums in prison

Blog: Assessing the impact of maternal imprisonment on children

Blog: Assessing the impact of maternal imprisonment

Support for families of those serving indeterminate sentences

HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) has published a guide to assist families and significant others who have a loved one serving an indeterminate sentence, such as a Life or IPP sentence.

The guide builds on the joint Prison Reform Trust and University of Southampton report, ‘A Helping Hand: Supporting Families in the Resettlement of People Serving IPPs’, written by Dr Harry Annison and Christina Straub, which we published in 2019. The report recommended that HMPPS should “develop appropriate information materials for families that explain the systems, processes and responsibilities related to the IPP sentence.”

The guide goes some way to meeting that recommendation, and aims to improve understanding of key stages during the sentence; suggests ways to support progression; and where to find more information and support.

Click here to download a copy of the guide.

Government urged to move quickly on radical changes to prisoners’ access to ICT

Prison Reform Trust director, Peter Dawson has urged the government to take the necessary “political decision” to enable greater access to ICT in prisons.

Giving evidence to the House of Commons Education Committee today (8 June) Peter Dawson said:

“There was a time when it was unthinkable that prisoners would have televisions in their cells. There was a time time very recently when it was unthinkable that prisoners would have phones in their cells, and now two-thirds of prisons have phones in cells.

“The use of technology goes so far beyond education. We’re worried about people spraying Spice onto letters, you can’t spray Spice onto an email but prisoners can’t access electronic communication. The case has been made long ago, but it needs political will to make it happen.”

Click here to catch up on the whole evidence session, and click here to read our written evidence to the committee’s inquiry on prison education.

Safeguarding children when sentencing mothers: Scotland

Blog: The importance of Child Impact Assessments for children affected by maternal imprisonment

Read Sarah Beresford’s blog on the importance of Child Impact Assessments for children affected by maternal imprisonment below…
“Sentencers should know about the children. You get victim impact
statements. What about a child impact statement in the child’s own words or
even with pictures?” Sandra* made this suggestion in a
focus group for the What about me? report, which lays bare the impact on
children of having a primary carer in the criminal justice system. She had good
reason for making it; when Sandra was arrested, and subsequently sentenced to eight
months in prison, at no point were her three children considered. Sandra is a
single parent, and it was left to family members to pick up the pieces. As is
often the case, no one could take on all three children; Sandra’s mother took
in one, her sister the other two. The devastation for her children of being
separated from their mother was further compounded by being separated from one
Luke (aged 13) also experienced distress and trauma: “It was awful. I came home from school, and no
one was there.” Like Sandra, his
mother is a single parent, and like Sandra’s children, at no point in the
sentencing process was Luke’s existence formally acknowledged, far less his needs
addressed. Ultimately, Luke went to live with his grandmother but not without
unnecessary anxiety and stress.
These stories are not uncommon. In
September 2019, the Joint Committee on Human Rights published
its report on the Right to family life: Children whose mothers are in prison, shining a light on the concerns raised by Sandra and Luke’s
experiences. Included in the report’s key recommendations is that judges should
make reasonable inquiries to establish whether the
offender is the primary carer of a child, and if the offender is a primary
carer, the judge must not sentence unless a pre-sentence
report is available at the sentencing hearing, unless the circumstances are
reports should include information about dependent children. In reality,
however, many reports are written on the day of the hearing, which means that
critical information about the impact on children who will be affected may not
be captured. Child Impact Assessments, which focus
on children in their own right, rather than as an aspect of mitigation, would
require a court to consider the impact of imprisonment upon the welfare and
wellbeing of any dependent children and seek to ensure that children receive appropriate
and timely support.
as highlighted in the What about me? report, children would like magistrates and judges
to take their feelings, and the impact of a sentence on them, into account when
making their decision. Instead, they report feeing invisible throughout the
process. Child Impact Assessments would ensure that children are listened to,
rather than strategically silenced, and could highlight risks to children’s
rights and wellbeing. If children are recognised at the earliest opportunity,
including at the point of arrest, they can be offered support prior to a court
hearing and given an opportunity to inform
pre-sentence reports.
Child Impact Assessments have long been called for but have yet to
be implemented. Children of Prisoners Europe explored the principles behind
Child Impact Assessments in its 2015 European Journal of Parental Imprisonment, and in 2018, the Council of Europe published a set of recommendations aimed at safeguarding the rights and interests of children of imprisoned
parents and calling for a rigorous assessment of the needs of children
Merseyside’s Women’s Services Alliance is taking these
recommendations, and the call from women and children, very seriously and has
committed to piloting the implementation of Child Impact Assessments. This work
will include focus groups with women and children to agree a Child Impact
Assessment template and to determine who is best to complete them to ensure engagement;
liaison with NPS and CRC colleagues to ensure Child Impact Assessments enhance
current practice and sit within national guidelines; and liaison with
magistrates to ensure they are helpful in sentencing processes. Rosie Goodwin,
women’s lead for Merseyside CRC, says, “We are delighted to partner with PRT
on this important work to ensure that children with a mother in the criminal
justice system get the right support at the right time.”
Ultimately, every child affected by
imprisonment should receive an assessment of their needs. Thanks to several
recent reports, acknowledgement of the particular devastation for those with a
primary carer in the criminal justice system is growing. As the Merseyside
Women’s Services Alliance has recognised, now is the time to model the solutions
that people like Sandra and Luke are clearly calling for.
* All names have
been changed

Robert Buckland: “it is absolutely not the intention” that video calls will substitute visits

Today the Prison Reform Trust published a letter it has received from the Secretary of State to Justice Rt Hon Robert Buckland MP QC regarding video calls in prison.

Responding to concerns raised by the Prison Reform Trust of the risk that video calls might become a substitute for face-to-face visits, the Secretary of State provides an assurance that “it is absolutely not the intention that video calling will be a substitute for face-to-face visits. Where face-to-face visits can safely be delivered and remain the preference, no prisoner should be asked to substitute that for a video call.”

Commenting, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“Getting video call technology into prisons has been a welcome side-effect of the pandemic in prisons. There’s a long way to go still and we know the system doesn’t always work perfectly, but it’s a welcome first step towards realising the huge potential of modern technology to transform what can be achieved in prison. It’s crucial that ministers press on and seize the opportunity for radical change.

“Back in June, a remark from the Lord Chancellor implied that in some circumstances video calls might be offered as an alternative to a face to face visit. So we asked for clarification that that wouldn’t happen—video calls are a great addition, but they must never be considered a substitute for the opportunity to see someone face to face if that’s what people want. It’s taken a while, but we’re delighted that the Lord Chancellor has now given the assurance we sought.

“The next challenge is to make sure that video calls become a normal, universal and affordable part of how family ties are maintained.”

PRT comment: Care for pregnant women and mothers in prison

The government has announced improvements to care for pregnant women and mothers in prison, in response to a review by the Ministry of Justice, after long running criticism of the poor care that pregnant women receive in prison, and the recent deaths of two babies during childbirth in prison.

Our own research, ‘What about me?’ highlights the impact of separation on children when mothers are imprisoned, and found that their needs and best interests are rarely considered by the justice system.

In response to the review, the government has made a number of commitments, including the introduction of a dedicated perinatal adviser in every women’s prison; training for all staff in women’s prisons; and better joined up working between healthcare and prison staff. It also reaffirms its commitment to its Female Offender Strategy.

Commenting on the Ministry of Justice’s review of operational policy on pregnancy, Mother and Baby Units and maternal separation, Jenny Earle, Director of the Prison Reform Trust’s Programme to reduce women’s imprisonment said:

“Our own research shows the devastating impact that a mother’s imprisonment can have on their children, and this review is refreshingly honest about the need for improvements in their care. The children of prisoners are often invisible—confirmed by the absence of official statistics on their numbers. Whilst it’s welcome that the government has committed to rectify this, swift implementation of the review’s recommendations, and the Female Offender Strategy is needed in order to prevent further tragedies and deliver more effective responses to crime committed by women.”

PRT seeks assurances on the future of video calls and visits in prisons

The gradual resumption of face-to-face visits in some prisons earlier this month will have come as an immense relief for those able to see their loved ones. But as prisons begin their recovery and restrictions are eased at different speeds, it will take time before visits return to anywhere near the levels seen before the pandemic.

Currently video calls are available in 30 of the 120 prisons in England and Wales, and access is limited to one call of up to 30 minutes per month per person. Nevertheless, for those few who have had access, it will have been the first time they have seen the faces of their loved ones in three months or more.

Last month Prison Reform Trust director, Peter Dawson, wrote to the Secretary of State for Justice for his assurance that video calls will be a permanent addition to the ways in which family ties can be maintained, not just during the Covid-19 pandemic but thereafter, and that they will not be used as a substitute or alternative to either phone calls or face to face visits.

In his response, Robert Buckland refers to the emergency introduction of video calls during the pandemic, but says that a “longer-term solution” to deliver the recommendations of Lord Farmer’s review remains under consideration—“focussing on those who do not receive face-to-face visits under normal circumstances”.

Following the publication of the first report from our new Covid-19 CAPPTIVE project earlier this month, we have now received a further letter from the prisons minister Lucy Frazer. In it, she provides additional detail on the expansion of video calling facilities, along with a list of prisons which are currently working to introduce them.

However, what neither of these letters provide are reassurance that these will not become a substitute for face-to-face visits. Lord Farmer’s report on family ties spelt out the case for mainstreaming the provision of video calling technology in prisons. Two and a half years later—when the pandemic struck—that recommendation was still not implemented.

The prison service has now said it wants video calling to become a permanent feature. That’s welcome. But it needs to go faster, to give a guarantee that video calls will cost prisoners’ families the same as they cost the rest of us, and that they will always be an addition to face to face contact, not a substitute for it.

Following the response from Robert Buckland, we have written again to seek assurance. Click here to read a copy of our latest letter.