“Justice system must ensure wellbeing of prisoners' children, say campaigners”

By Neil Puffett

| 03 June 2013

Children's welfare should be considered at every stage of the criminal justice system when their parents are facing detention or imprisonment, a group of charities is urging.

Action for Prisoners’ Families and the Prison Advice & Care Trust (Pact) said the current system places children’s welfare at risk. They are calling for impact assessments on offenders’ and prisoners’ children to take place at the points of arrest, detention, sentencing and release of parents.

The charities - whose call has been backed by the Prison Reform Trust, the Howard League for Penal Reform, Caritas Social Action Network and Nepacs - are also calling for all prisons to have an independent children’s advocate and for the rights of offenders’ children to have a voice in government.

The points feature in a joint Agenda for Action, published to coincide with the start of European Prisoners’ Children Week today.

Debbie Cowley, director of Action for Prisoners' Families, said children's welfare should be considered when police make decisions on arresting suspects and judges pass sentence.

“If police enter a home to make an arrest, it can be very traumatic for a child,” she said.

“We want it done in a way that minimises the damage to a child.

“Police should act in partnership with relevant local partners to make arrests of parents less distressing for children.

“We would like to see plans from every police and crime commissioner on how they intend to do that.”

The charities also want courts to have a statutory responsibility to take into account family circumstances and the potential impact on children when making sentencing decisions.

Andy Keen-Downs, chief executive of the Prison Advice & Care Trust, said: “Prisoners’ children are the innocent, hidden victims of crime, and are far more vulnerable than other children to becoming involved in crime in later life.

"Our campaign is based on the premise that when the state locks up a child’s parent, it has a duty of care to the child. We are challenging the government to work with us to develop a compassionate and rational response to meeting the needs of children of prisoners.”