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State must safeguard the rights of children and families of prisoners in order to reduce negative social and economic effects into the future - IPRT

19th November 2012


The criminal justice system is failing to adequately safeguard the rights and needs of the children and families of prisoners, and action is needed to provide supports to these families to avoid serious social and economic costs in the future. This is at the core of a new report by the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) which was launched today (Monday, 19th November 2012) by the Ombudsman for Children, Emily Logan, in Dublin.

"Picking Up the Pieces": The Rights and Needs of Children and Families Affected by Imprisonment details children's rights and family rights under the Irish Constitution, the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN CRC), and highlights how these rights are not being adequately safeguarded for children with a parent or parents in prison. Crucially, the report includes the voices of children and families affected – voices which are rarely heard.

Among the range of issues detailed in the report are: the lack of a strategy at national level to minimize the negative impact on children and families; poor information for families at sentencing stage; lack of child-friendly visiting areas in the vast majority of prisons; the impact of non-contact and screened visits on younger children; denial of visits due to prison discipline, which is against human rights standards; the need to better facilitate father-child relationships; stigma; and unfair media intrusion into family lives.

The report also cites national and international research which demonstrates that strong family relationships are key to the successful reintegration of prisoners on release, thus reducing reoffending and ultimately reducing the numbers of victims of crime. Put simply, it is in everyone’s interest that these family relationships are facilitated.

Speaking today, IPRT Executive Director Liam Herrick said:

“While our work is focused around the human rights of prisoners, we have found that prisoners are often more concerned about the impact of their imprisonment on their families. While prison necessarily balances security issues with human rights considerations, this report is highlighting that there is a third dimension not being taken into account: the effects that imprisonment of a family members has on innocent families and, in particular, children. The international evidence is clear that, for society, failure to support families can have serious social and economic costs into the future.”

For all media enquiries, please contact:
Fíona on 087 181 2990 or communications@iprt.ie


1. Some Figures

  • In the European Union, there are approximately 800,000 children affected by parental imprisonment on any given day; this is 1 in every 100 children.
  • There is no data collated on the number of children affected by parental imprisonment in Ireland. However, in 2005, extrapolations by EUROCHIPS (European Network for Children of Imprisoned Parents) based on an Irish prison population of 3,200 estimated that:
    • the number of children separated from an imprisoned father in Ireland is approximately 4,300
    • an estimated 142 children are separated from an imprisoned mother.
    Today there are around 4,300 people in prison, and the number of women in prison has doubled since 2005. This means that the numbers of children affected by parental imprisonment is significantly higher now.
  • Research has found that prisoners let out occasionally for family visits during their period of imprisonment are less likely to be re-imprisoned (43% re-imprisoned after 4 years where the average is 48%, according to Ian O’Donnell, 2008).
  • An economic study on the Integrated Family Support Programme in the UK found that for every £1 invested in facilitating the family relationship when a person goes to prison, the taxpayer can save £11.41 in the long-term.

2. New IPRT Report on Children and Families of Prisoners

"Picking Up the Pieces": The Rights and Needs of Children and Families Affected by Imprisonment is a 48-page report on the rights, needs and experiences of families and children of prisoners. It follows extensive consultations with children, families, support services and relevant agencies. The report makes key recommendations, directed at: Government; An Garda Síochána; Courts and Courts Service; Irish Prison Service; Media; Department of Education; State and Academic Institutions.

IPRT is very grateful to the St Stephen’s Green Trust for kindly supporting this research project.

The report is available for download here.

3. The report was launched by the Ombudsman for Children, Emily Logan, on Monday 19th November, 2012 in the Office of the Ombudsman for Children, Dublin. Speakers at the event were the Ombudsman for Children, Emily Logan; Larry De Cléir, Project Leader with Bedford Row Family Project; and Liam Herrick, Executive Director of the Irish Penal reform Trust.

4. The Ombudsman for Children is the independent, statutory human rights organisation with responsibility for promoting and monitoring children’s rights in Ireland. The powers and authority of the Ombudsman for Children are set out in primary legislation, the Ombudsman for Children Act, 2002. More details: www.oco.ie

5. The Bedford Row Family Project was set up in 1999 to support families visiting Limerick Prison. Their principal areas of work are: Hospitality at Limerick Prison, Education, Support and Counselling, Information, Referral, Advocacy, Response to Children's Needs, Raising Public Awareness, Research, Re-integration of People Who Have Been in Prison. Publications include Voices of Families Affected by Imprisonment. More info: www.bedfordrow.ie

6. Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) is Ireland's leading non-governmental organisation campaigning for the rights of everyone in prison and the progressive reform of Irish penal policy, with prison as a last resort. More info: www.oco.ie

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