The Forgotten Victim
© Alison Henderson
Published: December 2007
A person’s comment:
“That’s her there! Her hubby’s inside!”
“How can she stand by him?” a neighbour cried!
“I’d throw away the lock and key!”‘
“That husband of hers should never be free!”
“That woman can do so much better than him!”
“I’d throw all his letters away in the bin!”
“Just what can he offer now that he’s locked away?”
“A complete waste of space!” she shouted that day.
“That’s the one there! Her boyfriend’s inside!”
“He’s scum of the earth!” a neighbour implied!
“If I were her, well I’d meet someone else!
“Not wasting my life to be left on the shelf!”
“That woman’s been left to cope with the shame.”
“It was all over the papers! And gave out his name.”
“He’s useless! A criminal! Bring back the rope!”
“He’ll do it again! For him there’s no hope!”
That man you condemn has a child and a wife
A mum and a dad who have given him life!
What would you do if this happened to yours?
Deny all your love and close all the doors?
Do you honestly think I’d sink to a level
And just turn my back and deem him a devil?
Yes! He’s done wrong and is serving his time
And no, I do not agree with his crime.
“That woman” you point at, yes it is me.
I was born with a name, as I’m human you see!
I’m innocent, just in case you forgot
And love him whether you like it or not!
I’ve had the abuse, the comments and more.
It’s nothing I haven’t heard all before.
I mean no offense when I say this to you
I’m a victim as well, a forgotten one too.
∼ ∼ ∼ ∼ ∼ ∼
Prison! The gift that keeps on giving, especially for families. The one thing that can’t be given back, however, is time. Those precious family moments, gone in a blink of an eye.
“Of all the crimes that man/woman commits to go to prison, in most cases our decision to keep them there is worse.”
“Every year in the UK about 125,000 children are separated from an imprisoned parent, with an estimated 17,000 separated from an imprisoned mother”
(Prison Reform Trust, 2003)
A detailed report published by the Social Exclusion Unit (SEU, 2002) titled, “Reducing re-offending by ex-prisoners” highlighted some sad statistics, it could be argued that not much has changed over the years for families. Let’s take a look at some stats from the report:
- 43% of sentenced prisoners and 48% of remand prisoners lose contact with their families.
- Average distance away from families.
- Sentenced: male prisoners – 56 miles.
- Female prisoners – 66 miles.
- Young prisoners – 61 miles.
- 62% of prisoners, not receiving visits, said they would if travelling was made easier.
Children of prisoners have about three times the risk of mental health problems and/or anti-social/delinquent behaviour compared to other children (Bromley Briefings, June 2012)
Let us look at some more stats again, this time from the Bromley Briefings Prison Fact-files 2012:
- There were approximately 200,000 children in England and Wales who had a parent in prison at some point in 2009.
- In 2006, more children were affected by the imprisonment of a parent than by divorce in the family.
- Prisoners’ families are vulnerable to financial instability, poverty, debt and potential housing disruption, and it is estimated that the average personal cost to relatives of a prisoner is £175 per month, although these figures are conservative estimates and likely to be higher.
- Prison governors receive no specific funding to meet the costs of family support work, parenting courses, family visitor centres or supervised play areas. This means any family provision must come from a governor’s already stretched and shrinking general prison budget.
In the latest Bromley Briefings Autumn 2018 the statistics showed:
- Family and friends are the most important factor in enabling successful resettlement on release.
- Despite this, inspectors found no evidence that families were involved in sentence planning, even when a person said they were relying on them for support after release.
- Arrangements to help prisoners maintain and strengthen family ties are too variable across prisons, and are not given sufficient priority or resources according to an independent government commissioned review and prisons inspectors.
- Furthermore, no-one routinely monitors the parental status of prisoners in the UK or systematically identifies children of prisoners, where they live or which services they are accessing.
- Prisons do not regularly record whether people have children under the age of 18, however, 56% of women and 47% of men surveyed by inspectors in 2017–18 reported that they did.
- Nearly one in five (19%) young adults (18–20 years old) surveyed said they had children. This compares to 4% of the general population who are young fathers.
- One in 10 boys in young offender institutions told inspectors that they had children themselves. Only around half of men (46%) and women (53%) were offered a free telephone call on their first night in prison to let family know that they were okay.
- Women are often held further away from their families, making visiting difficult and expensive. The average distance is 64 miles, but many are held considerably further away. The closure of HMP Holloway has resulted in more women being held further away from friends and family according to inspectors.
- Reoffending rates are 21 percentage points higher for people who said they had not received family visits whilst in prison compared to those who had.
- However, only three in 10 prisoners reported that it was easy or very easy for family to visit them at their current prison—16% said they did not receive visits.
- Nearly half of women (48%) and men (46%) said they had problems sending or receiving mail.
- Inspectors found that in many prisons people were often locked up at 6pm or earlier—affecting their access to the telephone and contact with their family.
- The cost of making a telephone call from prison is expensive. A 30 minute call during the working week to a landline costs £2.75 and for mobiles is £6.12.
Recent research by the University of Cambridge (2012) found that predictors most consistently linked to positive resettlement outcomes for fathers, mothers and children included:
- High quality of family relationships.
- Good communication between the parent and family during imprisonment.
- High frequency of contact during imprisonment.
- Participation in family-oriented programmes (when controlled for the quality of the parents’ relationship).
Studies have documented the difficulties families face in maintaining contact during imprisonment which include: difficulties with visiting including cost, time, distance, stress, restrictive visiting hours and practical difficulties such as lock-downs and weather causing travel difficulties, children’s experience of the visiting process and search regimes, cost of telephone calls.
I believe the statistics show how important families are, in not only a prisoners life but, also for the family, as well as an important aspect in reducing re-offending. The stats, it can be argued, show that families are still getting a raw deal in a situation not of their doing and not much has changed over the years for the forgotten victims. Whilst I was writing this piece I received a phone call from my daughter and asked her what she felt was an important aspect of contact, she replied, “just to have my dad.”