Paying the price: the cost to families of imprisonment and release

New research from Families Outside highlights the role of prison in creating, sustaining and deepening poverty for children and families. Paying the price: the cost to families of imprisonment and release (PDF) finds that the burden of care and costs falls disproportionately on women, and that many spend half their income or more in costs relating to their family member's imprisonment. These costs include travel, staying in touch, postage, paying money into personal accounts and other costs associated with maintaining contact.

When a person is held on remand, this is an especially uncertain, stressful and costly time for families. Scotland has one of the biggest remand populations in Europe, with nearly 30% of all people held in prison in Scotland on remand, and 57% released after this period. The average cost to families supporting someone in prison on remand was £300 a month. Several spent all their income to afford this, and most were spending around half their income in costs relating to supporting their family member in prison.

A decade of austerity, pandemic and cost-of-living crises means the context in which families are living and the backdrop for this new study are harsher than ever.

One research participant who supports her partner in prison reported that she was finding it hard to stay afloat:

'Some weeks I sit with nothing. I have had to rely on foodbanks… I only eat one meal a day. It is for costs. It is for the kids… I have had to get crisis loans, community care grants.'

People in prison are up to six times less likely to reoffend if they maintain family contact during imprisonment. Meaningful connection between children and families with the person in prison, if appropriate, can support the health and wellbeing of all involved. However, this research has found that this comes at a significant cost to families.

Families Outside is the only charity that works solely on behalf of children and families affected by imprisonment. Over recent months, it has seen a sharp increase in families worried about costs and seeking financial support.

Reflecting on the research, chief executive, Professor Nancy Loucks said,  

'Children and families are in effect being punished for acts they did not commit, their only crime being a desire to support a loved one. Even before the cost-of-living crisis, these families were making significant sacrifices of their own physical and emotional wellbeing just to get by, simply because of their circumstances. We can and must do more to prevent this.'

Paying the price: the cost to families of imprisonment and release (PDF)

Summary of key findings (PDF)

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Other articles published in the Winter 2023 newsletter