When a woman is in prison it is almost impossible for her to get any legal advice concerning family matters. She can’t just search ‘what do I do when my ex won’t let me see my kids’ or ‘how do I keep in contact with my children’ as there is no open internet access within prisons . Since legal aid for private family proceedings ( contact / residence etc) no longer exists a woman won’t be able to get advice for free from a solicitor and is unlikely to have the funds to pay for private advice. Many mothers in prison believe that their imprisonment removes any rights they have to see or remain in contact with their child. This false belief is damaging to both mothers and children.
The Prisoners’ Advice Service (PAS) identified the need for information to be made available and together with Rights of Women (ROW) they have developed four information booklets which will be made available to all women in prison. In addition PAS run family law clinics in a number of women’s prisons.
The booklets cover all aspects of both private and public family law proceedings:
Children and the Law: When Families cannot agree
Children and the Law: Parental Responsibility
Children and the Law: When Social Services are involved
Children and the Law: Adoption for women prisoners
I was fortunate enough to work on this project in 2018. Part of my job was to facilitate the development of the booklets with focus groups of women in prison. The end product is a fully co-produced resource; the content, tone and the ordering of the information were all influenced by the women’s own experiences and their knowledge of how best to provide this information to women experiencing what is likely to be traumatic separation from their children. By combining lived experience with the legal expertise of PAS and ROW these booklets address the questions mothers are asking and provide excellent legal advice.
I cannot speak more highly of this work and commend the leaflets to any of you who work within prisons. It is known that women’s concerns about their children are one of the greatest stressors for the female prison population, therefore giving women the ability to ensure that they can keep relationship with their children , when that is in the child’s best interests, is of vital importance. One of the criticisms of the prison system is that people within it are expected to take responsibility for their lives but at the same time their ability to do so is removed by the system. These booklets aim to redress that. Knowledge is power and by sharing these booklets with women they will be empowered to remain active and involved in their children’s lives.