Families Outside has said a clear roadmap to the re-establishment of prison visits must be created
A charity is highlighting the thousands of children who haven't seen their parents during lockdown.
Families Outside, Scotland’s only national charity working with children and families affected by imprisonment, has highlighted new research findings on the devastating impact of the pandemic on children of prisoners.
New research published by Dr Shona Minson from the University of Oxford found that, prior to the lockdown, 96% of children with a parent in prison were visiting their parent regularly. Since the lockdown restrictions were introduced, thousands of children have not seen their parents in prison now for over a year.
In an open letter to the justice secretary Humza Yousaf MSP, Families Outside has called upon the Scottish Government to recognise the negative impact of this loss of contact on children and to take action to support family reunification and resettlement after imprisonment. They want the Scottish Government to:
- provide a clear roadmap for the justice system, the re-establishment of prison visits, and the lifting of restrictions within prisons at the same time as announcements are made about the easing of restrictions across the rest of the community;
- Stop courts from remanding parents with dependent children in custody unless there is a compelling public safety reason why this is unavoidable. 1 in 4 people in prison in Scotland are currently held on remand, and there are long delays before cases come to trial; and
- Consider whether parents in prison can be released early to serve the remainder of their sentence on licence.
As Scotland marks the first anniversary of entering Covid-19 restrictions, chief executive of Families Outside, Professor Nancy Loucks, said: “Restrictions introduced to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and save lives have meant that thousands of children across the UK have not seen their parent in prison for over a year since the first lockdown was introduced.
"Children may not fully understand why contact has stopped and may blame themselves. The negative effects on relationships due to this loss of contact are likely to be long-term. Video calls have been a lifeline for families, but these have been limited and are sometimes problematic for children. It is vital that, as restrictions are eased, the Scottish Government sets out how family contact will be re-established in prisons and how appropriate support is put in place to help rebuild family relationships.
“Enormous delays to the justice process as a result of the pandemic mean that one in four people in prison are now held there on remand. Parents with dependent children should not be remanded in custody unless this is absolutely necessary for compelling reasons of public safety.”