Barnardo’s has written to the Prisons Minister, Sam Gyimah, calling for a change to ‘unfair’ rules, which the charity claims “punish” children whose fathers haven’t demonstrated “positive and motivated behaviour”.
The regulations governing the Incentives and Earned Privileges (IEP) Scheme in male prisons, can mean prisoners who don’t “demonstrate motivation” are allowed to see their children for just two hours every four weeks.
Floella Benjamin, Barnardo’s vice president who recently raised the issue in the House of Lords, said: “It should be a child’s right to visit their dad in prison, not for a dad to earn the right to see their child.
“Children massively struggle with the distress and confusion of having their father taken away. To then stop them spending a few precious hours with their dad simply traumatises them even further.”
A Barnardo’s spokesperson told HuffPost UK they have not yet received a response to their letter calling for the IEP Scheme in male prisons to be brought into line with those currently governing women’s prisons.
Guidance regarding visiting rights in women’s prisons states: “Children should not be penalised from visiting or contacting their mother because of the mother’s behaviour.”
However, male prisoners are entitled to just two hours a month to see their children under the IEP system. They can earn more than these ‘basic’ visiting rights by demonstrating motivation, seeking qualifications or helping other prisoners or staff.
Prisoners on “enhanced” status can get family weekend and holiday visits from their children, but other prisoners’ children have to take time off during a school day.
Around 200,000 children are affected by parental imprisonment each year in England and Wales, according to figures from the Ministry of Justice.
Barnardo’s runs services in the community and in prisons to help maintain contact and support family relationships.
The charity was told a year ago that the IEP scheme was under review, but they have heard nothing further.
Barnardo’s chief executive Javed Khan, said: “Stopping fathers’
family visiting rights hurts the most vulnerable and innocent ones – their
children. Restricting a child’s right to a family life by further limiting their
relationship with their parent is cruel.”
“We urged the Government to scrap this scheme a year ago and were told
it was under review,” Khan continued.
“We’re still waiting and children are still suffering. The Government must address this now as maintaining family ties is essential for children’s emotional development and life chances.”
Other charities have backed Barnardo’s appeal for change.
Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, an organisation working to “create a just, humane and effective penal system”, told HuffPost UK they share Barnardo’s concern that “restricting access to their own children continues to be used as a way of punishing fathers in prison”.
“Family contact is not a privilege to be earned but a fundamental part of effective rehabilitation,” he said.
“It is crucial to keeping people safe in prison and to deal with the devastating impact a prison sentence has on the innocent families prisoners leave behind.
“The Government recently welcomed the findings of a major review it commissioned from Lord Farmer on exactly this subject—it is time to turn words into action.”
Andy Keen-Downs, CEO of the charity Pact, which supports people affected by imprisonment, told HuffPost UK that increasing entitlement to family visiting hours not only has a positive impact on children, but can also reduce the likelihood of the inmate reoffending.
“There is strong evidence that with the exception of those cases where continued contact would place a child or family member at risk, enabling prisoners to maintain positive family ties is the single most effective thing we can do to minimise the risk of re-offending on release,” said Keen-Downs.
“Keeping a family strong means that prisoners are more likely than not to have somewhere to live, and a support network on release.
“So it is in all our interests that we support family life during a prison sentence.
“Pact, as the leading provider of family support services in prisons, has argued for over a decade that children’s contact with parents in prison shouldn’t be rationed or treated as an earned privilege, and many prisons have actually already dropped this practice.
When asked about Barnardo’s letter a Ministry of Justice spokesperson said:
“We are committed to transforming prisons into places of safety and reform and we recognise the need to provide those in our custody with stable environments, as well as opportunities to change their behaviour and turn away from a life of crime.
“Relationships with families can play a key role in this.
“We have a dedicated strategy to help strengthen family ties, including giving governors flexibility over their budgets to support schemes that help offenders maintain these relationships.”