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Revealed: new report shows negative effects on prisoners' families

A CALL has been made for parenting support initiatives in prisons and communities, after a new report revealed the impact having an incarcerated parent has on children.

The Prisoners and Family Reintegration report revealed how prisoners’ children are at a much greater risk of experiencing negative educational, behavioural and emotional outcomes. They are also at greater risk of future incarceration.

The research, commissioned by the Childhood Development Initiative (CDI), found that the children affected had a greater risk of developing problems with separation anxiety and anger as well as behavioural disturbances.

The children were also more likely to be subjected to teasing and bullying and to experience stigma as a result of their parent being in prison.

The research report, launched today, showed a deterioration in school performance among prisoners’ children and an increased probability of being involved in crime or antisocial behaviour, leading to a higher probability of being imprisoned.

The report also identified issues arising in the partner’s of prisoners, like financial problems, feelings of stigma and social isolation, and a difficulty maintaining contact with their partner, eventually leading to a higher rate of divorce than the national average.

This new research highlights, however, that the maintenance and development of positive links with children and family during imprisonment is proven to reduce these risks.

It also notes previous research that found that prisoners who have good bonds with their families on release are 53pc less likely to re-offend than those who don’t.

CDI CEO Marian Quinn said the report recommends the establishment of family support services that work across prison and community settings and independently of State bodies.

“Services should support families at any point during the period of imprisonment, especially leading up to release and for a time after release. They need to work with prisoners, partners and children in prison and the community and also encourage them to engage with Tusla and other services.”

Dr. Kieran O’Dwyer, who compiled the report along with Sharron Kelliher and James Bowes, said that while the review found some positive aspects of the current system and services, it also identified widespread system shortcomings and service gaps.

“It became clear that the basis for successful reintegration should start as soon as imprisonment begins,” Mr O’Dwyer said.

“Prisoners and their partners identified family-related needs at three stages of the imprisonment experience: around committal, during imprisonment and around release. The main need around committal was in relation to providing information to families at this time of great upset.

“Needs during imprisonment included enhanced family contact, family involvement in sentence planning, services to address offending behaviour and family supports in the community. Needs around release included family involvement in planning and support around reintegration.”

“We are recommending that the Irish Prison Service (IPS) see prisoners in the context of their families and develops offender management policy accordingly. Family support and parental learning should be key interventions.”

Irish Penal Reform Trust Executive Director Fiona Ni Chinnéide welcomed the research and said it provided very useful recommendations on steps that could be taken to support better outcomes for children whose parents are in prison.

“Supporting people in prison to maintain and improve their relationships with their families will benefit everyone. Children can be forgotten about in terms of how parental imprisonment affects them, and we have to do more for them while their parent is in prison and also after release.

“We know from evidence that strengthening family relationships will also reduce re-offending. Investing in and developing greater family support systems through the prison system, and in the community, will ultimately be of great benefit to all of society.”

The research builds on a pilot programme which CDI developed in partnership with the Katherine Howard foundation and the Irish Prison Service (IPS) called the Family Links Programme. It aimed at maintaining imprisoned fathers’ relationships with their partners and their children and was found to affect a significantly positive outcome.

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