Specific needs for families when someone goes to prison

Call 21 of Children in Scotland’s ‘25 Calls’ campaign is to invest in relationship-based whole family support rather than parenting programmes alone. What does this look like for families separated through imprisonment?

When someone goes to prison, the family faces a range of challenges including loss of income, unstable housing, lack of privacy, loss of social supports, victimisation and stigma, worsened physical and mental health, and potentially disrupted schooling, to name a few. Maintaining contact with the person in prison can be very challenging, with cost and distance causing nearly half of people in prison to lose contact with their families. But keeping this contact going is exceptionally important (when this does not put the family in danger), both because it is the child’s right, and because positive family contact actively reduces the risk of further offending.

Support with travel to prison visits

Families in receipt of certain state benefits are eligible for financial support for travel for up to two prison visits per month from the UK Assisted Prison Visits scheme. Families on low incomes, for example in low-paid jobs, are not eligible, and travel costs for those far from the prison their family member is in can face considerable costs. This call is therefore to:

  • review eligibility thresholds for people in remote areas with exceptional travel costs
  • allow claims to support travel to children’s visits in addition to the two monthly claims
  • use any underspend in the budget the Scottish Prison Service allocates to travel claims to fund other services designed to reduce travel costs / times for families visiting prisons
  • consider how travel costs for prison visits could be addressed within Scotland (as opposed to the current UK-wide system) with the new social security system for Scotland to address the needs of families more effectively. For example, it could support those travelling from the Islands and other remote locations
  • provide funding to support voluntary sector projects designed to reduce travel costs/times for families visiting prisons, including funding for a national travel service.

Protection of rights of children of prisoners

Children of prisoners have the same rights as any other child in Scotland. However, these rights are easily overlooked. Families Outside therefore calls on government to:

  • implement in full the 2018 Council of Europe recommendations for children of prisoners, including assessment of the impact on children when a parent goes to prison; provision of alternative forms of contact such as video visits for those who are unable or don’t wish to travel to prisons to visit; and protection of the right to privacy in the media for children and families when someone goes to prison
  • Incorporate the UNCRC into domestic law, ensuring full protection for children of prisoners, for example ensuring that they will not be discriminated against based on the status of their parent (Article 2); that their best interest will be a primary consideration in any decision affecting them (Article. 3); that they can maintain contact with their parent, if this is in their best interest (Article 9); and that they have a voice in decisions that affect them (Article 12)

Support for families where continued contact is not in their best interest

Not all families wish to maintain contact with the person in prison, nor is it always in their best interest to do so (for example in violent or coercive relationships). Equally not all families will be a positive influence on the person coming out of prison. People in this position are likely to need support to make and sustain a decision to separate. Families Outside would therefore like agencies to:

  • implement assets-based genograms or other methods of assessing the nature of family relationships and where supportive connections lie
  • ensure families are included in pre-release planning and parole processes as appropriate
  • recognise that families may be victims of domestic abuse/ oercive control, even where this is not the index offence, and ensure that they are supported accordingly

Support for professionals

The impact of imprisonment on families is a hidden issue, with key professionals often unaware of it and unsure of how to support families in this situation. In order for families to be better supported, Families Outside calls for agencies to

  • provide workforce development for key professionals (schools, health, early years, children’s panels, welfare, housing, social work, police, judges, prisons, parole) to recognise the impact of imprisonment on families and see how they can support families within their own remits.



About Families Outside

Families Outside is a national Scottish charity that works specifically to support children and families affected by imprisonment. It does this through provision of direct practical and emotional support; training of key professionals; and development of policy and practice. Through this it has identified a number of practical ways to support families affected by imprisonment.