European Prisoners’ Children Week

Fiona Donson

This week is European Prisoners’ Children Week and is being marked by Eurochips and its partners. the families of prisoners are an oft  forgotten group. Children in particular often suffer serious ill effects as a result of losing a parent to prison.

This issue was recently explored at an excellent conference hosted by St. Nicholas Trust in Cork entitled Doing Time – Outside. Speakers from a variety of organisations from the Irish Prison Service, to Bedford Row, St.Nicholas Trust and Partners of Prisoners UK, all made important and often moving contributions to an event which laid bare the challenges that arise in this area.

Organisations working with prisoners families provide invaluable support, counselling and services to this forgotten group often on very little money. And their cause if given little publicity or sympathy with the view taken by most, including those in the criminal justice system, that the prisoner has brought it on themselves, and therefore by connection on their own family too. However, the impact of imprisonment goes far beyone the offender. Eurochips notes in their literature that:

Each year, more than 800,000 children within the European Union are affected by the incarceration of a parent. These children frequently experience trauma stemming from a violent separation from their parent, social stigmas, and prejudices associated with having imprisoned parents, and violations of their rights.

For the children of prisoners the issue is one of fundamental rights including their right to family life and right to health as enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Eurochips is currently running a campaign including a petition calling for the right of children of prisoners to have their right to family life respected. Their desire to

-improve prison visiting conditions for children including longer hours, awareness raising and training for prison staff, and permission to maintain regular contact with a parent in prison

and

-create national monitoring groups to obtain more information on this vulnerable group of children and maintain quality visits

are essential and realistic goals which should be realised in any modern prison system.