2nd April 2010

The Centre for Social and Educational Research, DIT, was commissioned by the Management Committee of the Visitors’ Centre in the Mountjoy Prison Complex to carry out research into the effects of parental imprisonment on children.The topic has to date received little formal attention in Ireland, despite the fact that imprisonment affects a much wider section of the population than those who are serving custodial sentences.The purpose of the research was to address the lack of information that exists about the children of prisoners in Ireland and to provide an initial profile of their needs. In doing so, it aimed to increase awareness about the issue of child poverty among the children of prisoners and to produce recommendations that could be used to lobby for specific changes in prison policy, premised on a rights-based approach. A further objective of the research was the production of recommendations that could be used to ensure that the needs of children affected by parental imprisonment are given a broader consideration within the anti-poverty, equality and justice arenas.

Research conducted in several other countries has highlighted the negative impact that a parent’s imprisonment can have on children (eg, Shaw 1992; Healy 2000; Boswell and Wedge 1999;Tudball 2000). Among the key findings to emerge from the studies are the fact that parental imprisonment can have a negative effect on the financial situation of children, that it can give rise to changes in children’s behaviour, and that it can fundamentally alter and sometimes lead to a breakdown in parent-child relationships. In addition, children may be placed under a great deal of stress if they are stigmatised as a result of their parent’s imprisonment, or if they feel that they have to keep the sentence a secret from their peers and from others. These themes were reflected in the design of the instruments used for the study.

The research was conducted in the Mountjoy Prison complex during the summer months of 2001. During this period, interviews were conducted with caregivers who use the Visitors’ Centre in the prison complex and with parents in prison. A total of 26 prisoners (5 female, 21 male) agreed to participate in the study. Interviews were also carried out with 19 caregivers (18 female, 1 male). Data were collected by means of a questionnaire that was administered on a one-to-one basis. Informal discussions took place with children who use the Visitors’ Centre, with childcare workers and staff members from the Visitors’ Centre, with staff of the Probation and Welfare Office, with ex-offenders, and with prison officers.

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Author: rmchristen