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End prison scheme stopping children visiting dads

Release Date: 23 Aug 2017

Barnardo’s wants an end to unfair prison rules which punish children whose fathers haven’t earned the right to see them.

Family visits are being taken away to penalise male prisoners who don’t demonstrate positive and motivated behaviour, leaving some children with just two hours every four weeks to see their dads.

Around 200,000 children are affected by parental imprisonment each year in England and Wales (1) and children make nearly 10,000 visits each week to public prisons (2). Barnardo’s runs services in the community and in prisons to help maintain contact and support family relationships. It supported at least 1,300 children and their families affected by a parent in prison in 2016/17.

Barnardo’s has again written to the Prisons Minister calling for the regulations governing the Incentives and Earned Privileges (IEP) Scheme in male prisons to be changed in line with those currently governing women’s prisons. Barnardo’s was told a year ago that this scheme was under review.

Barnardo’s Vice President Floella Benjamin, who recently raised the issue in the House of Lords, said:

It should be a child’s right to visit their dad in prison, not for a dad to earn the right to see their child.

Children massively struggle with the distress and confusion of having their father taken away.

To then stop them spending a few precious hours with their dad simply traumatises them even further.

Barnardo’s Chief Executive Javed Khan, said:

Stopping fathers’ family visiting rights hurts the most vulnerable and innocent ones – their children.

Restricting a child’s right to a family life by further limiting their relationship with their parent is cruel.

We urged the Government to scrap this scheme a year ago and were told it was under review.

We’re still waiting and children are still suffering. The Government must address this now as maintaining family ties is essential for children’s emotional development and life chances.”

Barnardo’s ambassador, and Walking Dead star, Andrew Lincoln said:

The children of a parent serving time in jail suffer emotional neglect, anger and upset, and the stigma this situation incurs.

Why should a child have to suffer for the parents wrongs?

The work I witnessed was very powerful and moving and the results impressive. The chance of the parent reoffending and the likelihood of the child following the same path is significantly reduced.

It seems like Barnardo's work in strengthening these family bonds gives all members of the family hope for the future, and seems to me to contribute to an essential part of the purpose of prison, rehabilitation.

Male prisoners are entitled to just two hours a month to see their children under the IEP system. They can earn more than these ‘basic’ visiting rights by demonstrating motivation, seeking qualifications, helping other prisoners or staff.

Prisoners on ‘enhanced’ status get family weekend and holiday visits from their children but other prisoners’ children have to take time off during a school day.

In addition, between 2012 and 2014, the amount of prisoners on basic status increased by 52% (900 more prisoners) whilst those on enhanced status decreased by 16% (5,900 fewer). The current IEP scheme was changed in 2013. (3)

Visiting rights are separate from the scheme for female prisoners. The guidance for women’s prisons states: “Children should not be penalised from visiting or contacting their mother because of the mother’s behaviour. The number of visits by children should not be restricted in order to serve the needs of an incentive scheme.”(4)

Outcomes tend to be worse for children of prisoners. They are more likely to experience mental health problems, bullying, poverty and a decrease in school attendance and achievement (5). They are also more likely to be offenders themselves (6).

The recently published review by Lord Farmer said good family relationships are urgently needed and “indispensable” to a prisoner achieving rehabilitation.

The Ministry of Justice’s own research shows that, for a prisoner who receives visits from a partner or family member, the odds of reoffending are 39% lower than for prisoners who had not received such visits. (7)


Notes to Editors

(1) Prisoners’ Childhood and Family Backgrounds – Ministry of Justice, (2012).

(2) Locked Out - Children’s experiences of visiting a parent in prison, (2015) Barnardo’s.

(3) Prisoners are entitled to just two hours every four weeks (two one hour visits) to see their children under the current ‘IEP system’, which awards prisoners ‘statuses’ of ‘basic’ (2 hours), standard (3 hours) and enhanced (4/5 hours).  

Since 2012 the amount of prisoners on basic has increased by 52% whilst those on enhanced has decreased by 16%.

These visiting hours are a guide, though, and vary from prison to prison - with some allocating just 1/5th of the visiting time to basic prisoners in comparison to enhanced.

Source: Table 1: Prisoners by Incentives and Earned Privileges (IEP) status as at 31 March, 2011 – March 2014 NOMS offender equalities annual report Annex A

(4) PSO 4800 Women Prisoners 26/04/08 Issue 297

(5) COPING (2013) Children of Prisoners: Interventions and mitigations to strengthen mental health. University of Huddersfield, Huddersfield.

Morgan, J, Leeson, C, Dillon, R C, Wirgman, A L and Needham, M (2013) ‘A Hidden Group of Children’: Support in Schools for Children who Experience Parental Imprisonment. Children & Society, Volume 28, Issue 4, pp269-279   

(6) Loureiro, T (2010) Perspectives of children and young people with a parent in prison. SCCYP, Edinburgh.

Comfort, M, Nurse, A M, McKay, T, Kramer, K (2001) ‘Taking children into account: addressing the intergenerational effects of parental incarceration’. Criminology & Public Policy (American Society of Criminology), Volume 10, Issue 3, pp839-849.  

Rakt, M, Murray, J and Nieuwbeerta, P (2011) ‘The long-term effects of paternal imprisonment on criminal trajectories of children’. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, Volume 49, Issue 1, pp81-108.  

(7) May C., Sharma N. and Stewart D. (2008), Factors linked to reoffending: a one-year follow-up of prisoners who took part in the Resettlement Surveys 2001, 2003 and 2004, London: Ministry of Justice.

Last year 272,000 children, young people and families were supported by Barnardo’s through more than 1,000 services across the UK, such as young carers, care leavers, foster carers and adoptive parents, training and skills or parenting classes.

We work to transform the lives of the UK’s most vulnerable children and every year we help thousands of families to build a better future. But we cannot do it without you.

Visit to find out how you can get involved. Registered charity No. 216250 and SC037605

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