Series 4 Factsheets
Over half the women in prison have children under the age of 18 who were living with them at the time when they were sent to prison. For these children the imprisonment of their mothers is usually very traumatic, and this is often made worse by the fact that the rest of their lives are often thrown into complete turmoil as well.
Roisin's children are living with their father, but the majority of children whose mothers go to prison end up with grandparents or friends of their mothers. Some end up in the care of the local authority. Fearing that this might happen, and that they might not be able to get their kids back when they are released, some women feel they have no option but to leave their kids with friends they know would not meet with Social Services approval. They then tell the prison authorities they have no children.
Children looked after by friends or other relatives, or taken into Care have to move out of their homes and may have to change schools at a time when they are also coping with the loss of their mother.
Aidan does not want to bring the children to visit Roisin in prison, and his reluctance is understandable. But for the children the apparent disappearance of their mother can be very distressing. Refusal to allow contact with the children can be used by relatives to punish women for being in that situation, but of course it punishes the children too. Some women in prison simply don't want their children brought into a prison, or fear that they would not be able to cope with seeing the children leave, and refuse to let anyone bring them to visit.
On normal visits children are usually given a 'rub down' search similar to the searching at most airports when someone passes their hands over the outside of your clothing. They may be asked to open their mouths, have their hair searched and be asked to remove their shoes. Once inside the visits room most women's prisons have a play area with toys and crayons, but the women are not allowed to join their children there and play with them, they have to remain seated at tables. Although the play areas make the visits far more pleasant for the children the fact that they may want to go and play can be very difficult for their mothers to cope with.
The most upsetting time is usually the end of the visit. When the time is up there is no opportunity for long goodbyes and children often have to be prised away from their mothers, crying.
Most women's prisons also offer special children's visits. Arrangements vary from one prison to the next, but generally only the children come in on these visits - though obviously they depend on someone bringing them to the prison. Only a small number of women and children can generally have this sort of visit at any time, and the whole point of it is to provide mothers and children with the chance to spend time together. During children's visits the women are not restricted to sitting at a table - they can move around and play with their children. In some prisons these visits extend over a meal time and they can eat together.
Although the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child expressly says that children should have the right to contact with their imprisoned parent this right cannot be enforced if no-one is willing to bring the child to the prison.
What to tell the children
Some people are just unsure what to tell the children about where their mother is. Most people working with prisoners' families have heard a range of explanations ranging from 'Mummy is at College' through to 'Mummy is working for the police'. Quite often the adults underestimate just how much the children are able to work out, overhear, or even read for themselves (the HM Prison sign outside every jail is a dead giveaway for most bright 6 or 7 year olds) but children sometimes say nothing even when they have worked it out because the adults around them so clearly don't want to talk about it. Most organisations working with prisoners' families encourage them to tell children the truth because it is better that they hear about it from people who care about them. Once they know they can ask any questions they have.
For further information on the issues covered in this section, please visit The Centre for Crime and Justice Studies website.