11/20/13 - women in prison

In today's selection -- there is a long-standing debate about whether prison is an effective method of curbing crime and dealing with criminals. One side holds that prison is effective and more and harsher penalties an effective deterrent, while the other side holds that prison is a breeding ground for even more crime, that the cost of holding criminals in prison far outweighs the benefits, and that parole, fines, community service, training programs and other alternatives are less expensive and more effective for all but the most violent crimes. A part of this debate is the effect on children when parents are sentenced to prison. The following is information is regarding female prisoners in Britain:

"Some 15 per cent of prisoners report that they are homeless before entering prison. For those women who aren't, many face the possibility of eviction while inside due to rent arrears, as well as losing their personal property. Indeed one in three (32 per cent) of prisoners lose their homes while in prison and there is no help available to pay for the storage of their belongings. Many children end up in local authority care while their mothers are in prison, with the remainder being looked after by an assort­ment of family, friends and acquaintances. Only one in twenty (5 per cent) children are able to stay in their own home when their mother is in prison. They rarely have to move when their father goes to prison.

"The array of judges with high salaries, invest­ment savings from their time as QCs [barristers], and handsome pensions plus high social status only have the mother in front of them to send to prison. As many campaign­ers [advocates] have observed, those actually punished are the children left behind. What is more, many initial care arrangements are likely to break down as a prison sentence progresses, leading to unstable and uncer­tain care for the child. Grandparents may be too old, ill or disabled. Sibling carers may be too young and emotionally immature to cope. Other family members may be put under financial pressure with another mouth to feed.

Anahi (R), 9, shares a moment with her mother Silvia Rodas, 25, and grandfather Carlos
(L) during a visit to meet her mother who is serving a 15-year sentence prison in Bahia Blanca October 14, 2012.

"Prisoners in general are statistically more likely to be from backgrounds of social exclusion and poverty and an unexpected additional child may tip the balance and aggravate the hardship to crisis point. There is not enough information about how many of the initial kinship care arrangements break down, resulting in the child entering the care system further down the line. A small but shocking minority of women in prison have no knowledge or information at all regarding care arrangements for their children while they are in custody. The Revolving Doors Agency based in Holloway prison found in a survey of 1,400 women serving their first sentence that forty-two women (3 per cent) had no idea who was looking after their children. Within this cohort it was reported that nineteen children under the age of sixteen years were looking after themselves. Baroness Corston reflected that 'quite apart from the dreadful possibility that these children might not be in a safe environ­ment, this must cause mothers great distress and have deleterious consequences for their mental health'."


Vicky Pryce




Biteback Publishing


Copyright 2013 by Vicky Pryce


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