Welfare of prisoners' children addressed in report
The best interests of the child should be a key consideration when sending a parent to prison, a new report by the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) has found.
Picking Up the Pieces – The Rights and Needs of Children and Families Affected by Imprisonment also recommends consideration be given to child impact statements, which courts would take into account when considering placing parents in custody.
The report includes recommendations for the Government, the Courts Service, the Prison Service, An Garda Síochána and the media on safeguarding children and families of prisoners.
It recommends gardaí adhere to guidelines when arresting an individual to minimise the impact on family members. It also urges that the denial of family visits as a disciplinary sanction be prohibited and says child-friendly visits should be facilitated.
Speaking at the launch of the report, IPRT executive director Liam Herrick said: “While prison necessarily balances security issues with human rights considerations, this report is highlighting that there is a third dimension not being taken into account: the effects that imprisonment . . . has on innocent families and, in particular, children. The international evidence is clear that, for society, failure to support families can have serious social and economic costs.”
The report recommends that a charter of rights for children with a parent in prison be drawn up by the Departments of Justice and Equality, and Children and Youth Affairs. Issues included poor information for families at sentencing; a lack of child-friendly visiting areas; the impact of non-contact and screened visits on younger children; denial of visits due to prison discipline; the need to better facilitate father-child relationships; stigma; and unfair media intrusion into family lives.
About 4,300 children in the State are separated from a jailed father.