The women detailed their experiences of being incarcerated - from home raids, arrests, court, sentencing, and the visits from their kids - as part of a film created by national charity, the Prison Advice and Care Trust (Pact).
One mother expressed how she initially felt when she went to prison.
“As much as you’re getting punished, your kids are getting punished as well,” she said.
“There was not enough support, we were just ripped away from each other.”
But it doesn’t have to be this way. These women were part of a trial initiative by Pact called the ‘Visiting Mum’ scheme, which provides assistance and support to children visiting their mothers in prison.
The voices heard in the film ‘Not Just A Prisoner’, are six female prisoners, (however the women shown in the film are actors), who describe how they felt before taking part in the ‘Visiting Mum’ scheme.
One mum explained people have a lot of misconceptions about prisoners who are mothers.
“It’s like you’re just a bad mum and [people think] you don’t give a shit about your kids, because if you did give a shit, you wouldn’t have committed a crime,” she said in the film.
However, this is not the case, these women care deeply about their children and the ‘Visiting Mum’ scheme has proven that with the right support, it is possible for mums to serve their sentence while building a bond with their child, - which has a positive impact on both the prisoners and the children.
The Big Lottery Wales funded initiative has for the past three years provided assistance to Welsh children visiting their mums at HMP Eastwood Park in Gloucestershire.
Prior to this, many women were not receiving visits from their children. One mum explained that initially, contact with her 11-year-old daughter had been completely lost.
“From having her in my care in 11 years, they severed contact,” she said. “They wouldn’t let me phone her.
“They wouldn’t let me see her. We just want to support them [our kids], I think it’s definitely a benefit for the kids to have contact with us.”
What is the ‘Visiting Mum’ scheme?
The scheme involved the following elements:
- Volunteers in the community supported prison visits by children and caregivers.
- Support was provided with transportation to the prison.
- Visits were held in a family room rather than in a large visits hall.
- Mothers were provided with one-to-one family casework support.
- Parenting and relationship education classes were provided to improve the skills and confidence of mothers in prison to prepare for release.
A study of the ‘Visiting Mum’ scheme run by Cardiff University, found that contact with children reduces self-harm and adjudications (disciplinary hearings regarding prisoners’ behaviour in custody) for mothers serving prison sentences.
Children reported feeling “less anxious and less intimidated” by the prison environment, after being supported by volunteers to have frequent and more fulfilling visits.
Researchers also found prisoners felt less anxious about the welfare of their children and felt their mental health was improved as a result of the scheme.
Speaking about the benefit of a Pact visit from her children, one mum said: “You can play with your children, you can do arts and crafts. I think it’s helped me bond better with my child - I wouldn’t see my kids if I didn’t have Pact.”
The film hopes to raise awareness of the challenges facing mothers in prison and the importance of maintaining family contact.
To read the University of Cardiff’s report in full click here. To find out more about Pact’s work in prison click here and for more information on how support for prisoners’ families visit www.prisonadvice.org.uk/Pages/Category/get-help-now.