Researcher spells out effect on children of jailing their mothers

A researcher from De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) is due to give evidence to Parliament today (WEDS) on the effect of prison sentences on the children of women who are jailed.

Women in Prison WEB

Research suggests that five per cent of children with a mother in prison remain in the family home during their mother’s imprisonment, and nine per cent are cared for by their fathers. In contrast, most children whose fathers are prisoners remain with their mother.

Researchers have demonstrated that even short periods of parental imprisonment can have a range of negative impacts on children.

Lucy Baldwin, senior lecturer in community and criminal justice at DMU, has called for sentencing reform after interviewing women who have been in prison.

She argues in favour of community sentences to allow women to tackle the causes of offending while maintaining responsibility and care for their children.

Her research has highlighted the long-term impact of prison on maternal emotion, which affected family stability and children’s well-being. The negative impact of separation on children included bed-wetting, insecurities, challenging behaviour, difficulty in sleeping and loss of education.

Almost all the mothers in the study described being separated from their children, some for the first time, as ‘traumatic’, ‘painful’ and ‘heart-breaking.’

The study found that children were left with partners, grandparents and sometimes in foster care. Some mothers did not receive any visits from their children or very few visits, often because the travelling costs and long distances were prohibitive.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights is examining sentencing guidance given to the courts. When a court sentences a mother or primary carer it should consider the child’s rights under the Human Rights convention.

Today the committee will hear evidence from academics and other experts on the impact on children of mothers being jailed. Among those speaking will be charities Birth Companions and Barnardo’s.

In 2010, it was estimated that 17,240 children were separated from their mothers by imprisonment. Around 3,000 babies aged two or under have their mothers jailed every year.

Between a quarter and 31% of all female offenders have one or more children under 18.

The Joint Committee has 12 members, appointed from both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, to examine matters relating to human rights in the UK. The work scrutinises every Government Bill to see whether it presents an opportunity to enhance human rights in the UK.

The committee, chaired by Harriet Harmon, scrutinises the Government response to court judgements concerning human rights.

Posted on Wednesday 6th March 2019

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