Chief Executive, Catherine Kevis, reflects on the state of prison conditions and their impact on prisoners' families...

Most of us accept that a deprivation of liberty is a fair price to pay for people who are sent to prison. After all, they’ve committed an offence and broken the law. It’s quite a different story when deprivation of liberty turns into a prison sentence spent in inhumane and degrading conditions, the effects of which only serve to dehumanise, traumatise and further isolate people back into their own shell. Stripped of any human compassion and kindness, we’re left with people behaving badly and a cycle of re-offending. So, in times of crisis such as now, difficult conditions degrade even further into a spiral of despair for incarcerated people, causing families on the outside more anxiety and stigma.

We know that children of prisoners are more likely to experience mental ill health and lower educational attainment. For mothers, the fear of judgement and social stigma, coupled with a fear of being tarnished with the same brush as their incarcerated partner, stops them from seeking help and support at the very time when they need it most. Add to this, the worry of reuniting with a partner - who has experienced degrading conditions in prison, traumatised and with no mental health support – creates an emotional distance…. She has enough to worry about back home with the children and bills to pay. And so the cycle of re-offending continues, little for him to return to upon release, poor mental health and lacking energy to face up to everyday problems and despair – after all, didn’t society teach him that he’s not worth listening to from an early age and even less so now he’s in the criminal justice system.

If we’re to prevent re-offending and young people from offending in the first place, we need to be there, listen and pay attention to their human needs – sometimes, spotting the need before they’re even aware of it themselves. It can start anytime, anywhere: in prison with the humane treatment of prisoners, regardless of the crisis, at school, by listening to children first and pursuing the curriculum later and of course at home, by lightening the load of overwhelmed women on low income with little extended support and who lack the energy to navigate a complex system to access emotional and practical support.

In welcoming communities, people are better able to change, recover and rehabilitate and children can thrive, individuals benefit and communities benefit because they are safer. Yes it does take a village to raise a child, a justice system to punish deviance from the law of this land and all of us as individual citizens to pay attention to systems that dehumanise and drive people further to the margins of society. As difficult as it is, we need to stop judging and spend time reflecting on the kind of society we want all children to grow up in, regardless of their parents’ misdemeanours because all our us will benefit in the end.”