North’s prisons had 25,000 child visits last year
Highest number of children visiting prisons came from postcode in Derry
A total of 25,000 child visits were recorded by the Northern Ireland Prison Service during 2013, a figure that has emerged as a new scheme aims to maintain contact between inmates and their families.
The scale of child visits to jails was reported by The Detail , an investigative news website based in Belfast, after it requested a breakdown of visitors to the three main prison sites in the North.
The home postcode area of the child visitors was also provided by the prison service, with the highest number of children coming from a postcode in Derry.
View Child visitors to Northern Ireland's prisons in a full screen map
Of the 5,000 individual child visitors, some visited just once, while others entered jails multiple times.
The relationship the 4,865 children had with the prisoner they were visiting was not disclosed but it is likely many had – and could still have – a parent serving a sentence in Maghaberry prison near Moira, Magilligan prison in Limavady or Hydebank Wood in Belfast.
On a daily basis across Europe it is estimated that 800,000 children live separated from their parents due to them serving time in prison.
Children’s charity Barnardo’s Northern Ireland has described children with a parent in prison as the forgotten victims of crime.
Research has shown that children with a parent in prison experience a range of poor outcomes in relation to wellbeing, education and relationships.
They can also be more vulnerable to spending time in prison themselves as adults.
Prisoners who maintain contact with their families are less likely to reoffend.
Some 20 per cent of the total 126,505 visits to Northern Ireland’s prisons in 2013 were by children (25,031).
The new data shows that BT48 in Derry – which includes the Cityside, Ballynagard, Coshquin, Rosemount, The Collon and Culmore areas – was the postcode area in Northern Ireland with the highest number of resident children visiting prisons. A total of 350 individual children from this area visited jails last year.
This was followed by BT12 in Belfast (Falls Road, Sandy Row and The Village) where 339 children who visited prisons lived.
The Detail visited Maghaberry prison to report on a new scheme in Maghaberry run jointly by Barnardo’s Northern Ireland’s Parenting Matters team and the Northern Ireland Prison Service.
The project is the only one of its type in a state prison in the UK. It is inspired by a similar scheme which operates in the private Parc prison in south Wales.
The Families Matter programme involves male prisoners who are parents signing up for a 17-week programme of activities with a focus on family life and family relationships.
Practical classes include the men learning how to support their children’s learning in school, managing a family budget and cooking healthy meals.
At all times they are encouraged to think about the impact of their choices and decisions on their family.