The children of prisoners in the UK are a silent and forgotten population. How much more likely is it that these victims will one day follow their parents into jail? Staggeringly, children of prisoners are 80% more likely to be ultimately incarcerated themselves. The statistics reveal the truth about the cycle of crime. Yet we ignore it. We all pay the price for that neglect.
There is legislation currently shuffling its way through the House of Lords that we should all be made aware of. The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill contains a vital clause. It states that the wellbeing of offender's children be taken into account during their sentencing. This clause has significant implications for our nation. If you do not know what those implications are then keep reading.
Our gut instinct to punish criminals must be tempered by the realisation that children are innocent. These kids are victims themselves. They should not become a currency of revenge. Taking them into account at their parent's sentencing does not weaken our prosecution system. It does not make us less protected from crime. It does the opposite.
Amongst the emotive grandstanding, let us look at some facts and research.
The Effects of Parental Incarceration on Children and Families was a landmark study in the US completed by Lois E. Wright, Ph.D. and Cynthia B. Seymour, JD. They identified various key effects impacting these vulnerable children:
Alcohol and drugs: 'Substance abuse usually has a role in the incarceration, either as a causal factor or as the primary offence.'
Crime: 'Documented effects on children; As they may live in constant fear or may have become numb, accepting danger as a normal part of growing up.'
Intrafamilial violence: 'Fear, guilt, and desensitisation to violence'.
Child maltreatment: 'Abuse or neglect of a child before incarceration or as a precipitating factor in the incarceration is well documented as having a range of effects on children.'
Previous separations: 'An ongoing pattern of instability leaves children more vulnerable to effects from additional separations'.
The conclusions drawn by the expert team are robust.
Let us be clear, these children are already playing against the odds from the moment they are born. From our moral high horse we need to be sure that we employ full perspective. We need to use common sense.
The right-wing tabloid press enjoys a short-sighted approach to justice. The Daily Mail enthusiasm to lock up the parents of truant children is a typical example; guilty of ignoring the wider implications from such simpleminded, punitive measures. As a society we must avoid reactionary and lazy analysis.
I am a trustee and board member of the North East Prison After Care Society. I have witnessed firsthand how children suffer when their parents are taken into custody. The impact on their development and how their outlook on society changes is overwhelming. The direct and indirect consequences are pronounced.
I make no demands that you support the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill. I simply ask that you inform yourself about what is truly at question. Make your own mind up based on the facts and relevant statistics.
The future of many is at stake. Most relevantly, your own.