Diminished agency is a common phenomenon experienced by parents in prison. In addition to their alienative effects through social and physical isolation and a loss of personal responsibility, prisons constrain the exercise of key parental functions such as providing financial support, protection, discipline and care and can have an adverse impact on parenting capacities, as can the violence and humiliation inherent in the carceral system. These alienative effects of imprisonment can distort the child-parent relationship, with the child “taking charge” of the parent emotionally. If the relationship grows distorted through lack of adequate support, there are risks that on release from prison, some may experience difficulties in readjusting to life at home, with a higher risk of violence being expressed, towards others, themselves, their families and children; some parents may withdraw or repeat offend. For imprisoned mothers, the dysfunction can be expressed by withdrawal, over-protection (reparation, sacrifice), or violence. Studies in other fields and clinical observations have demonstrated that by merely articulating the existence of these risks, one can help reduce the incidence of these risks, in this case, assisting prisoner-parents in maintaining their appropriate role as a parent.
With the support of the Bernard van Leer Foundation, COPE is examining the impact of incarceration on the individual, and on parents, while highlighting possible points of entry for support initiatives during the sentence to help avoid the distortion of the child-parent relationship—initiatives for the prison service, NGOs, practitioners and professionals, and others—with a series of tools currently being developed based on the work of Alain Bouregba, psychoanalyst and founder of the COPE network. For more information: firstname.lastname@example.org