Safeguarding Children when Sentencing Mothers

(For briefing paper to accompany the film click here)

It is estimated that 17,000 children every year are affected by maternal imprisonment in England and Wales. 95% (16,000) of these children are forced to leave their homes as their mother’s imprisonment leaves them without an adult to take care of them. Despite this, no government agency has responsibility for ensuring the welfare of these children is safeguarded and their rights are protected.

I conducted research on the implications of maternal imprisonment for children. The study explored the lived experience of children whose mothers were in prison at the time of interview and the way in which sentencers considered those children within sentencing decisions.

The research findings show that the experience of having a mother in prison not only negatively impacts a child’s relationship with their mother, but can affect every area of their lives including their education, health, and well being. The knock-on effects of stigmatisation may also lead to social isolation and discrimination. The work highlights the importance of considering child dependents and understanding the profound impact that maternal imprisonment can have on children who themselves have done nothing wrong. In January 2018 research from 2 other countries has been published indicating that parental imprisonment in childhood also contributes to premature death as an adult.

Funded by the ESRC through the University of Oxford  and supported by the Prison Reform Trust Transforming Lives programme my research findings have been used to create information resources for all criminal justice professionals involved in adult sentencing decisions, to support sentencers’ understanding of the impacts of maternal imprisonment on children.

Launched nationwide on 24 January 2018 , the resource includes short films and briefing papers, which will be used across the criminal justice professions including by the Judicial College, Magistrates Association, Law Society, Criminal Bar Association and Probation services.

It is hoped that these resources will ensure that all professionals involved in sentencing, have a more comprehensive understanding of the potential impacts on children if their mother is imprisoned, and this will enable children’s welfare to be effectively safeguarded.