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Children make 500K prison visits a year, Barnardo's reveals

Release Date: 26 Sep 2014

Children make over half a million prison visits a year with “next-to-nothing known” about their impact on children, Barnardo’s reveals today.

England & Wales only

Children make 500K prison visits a year. So why do we know “next to nothing” about their impact on children? Barnardo’s

Children make over half a million prison visits a year with “next-to-nothing known” about their impact on children, Barnardo’s reveals today.

In its ‘Just Visiting’ briefing, the charity warns that these visits are taking place in a 'policy black hole' and fears they may be failing to meet the needs of hundreds of thousands of vulnerable children.

Barnardo's obtained data on the number of children visiting a prison using the Freedom of Information Act.

The charity is releasing the figures from around 120 public prisons in England and Wales for the first time ever today. They show that last year children made an average of just under 10,000 prison visits a week (1) – the size of 39 primary schools. On average around 18,000 children (2) visited a prison every month, a total of 506,694 visits last year. However, the full scale of visits taking place in England and Wales will be even greater as the FOI requests do not cover fourteen private prisons.

Barnardo’s runs 13 services in England and Wales supporting children with a parent in prison. Our workers help children deal with the distress of visiting an intimidating environment where dad, mum or a sibling is locked-up. One teenager told us she was treated at visits like she was the “scum of the earth”.(2)

One mother of four told Barnardo’s that her 280-mile journeys to prison costing £120 had been crippling the family finances for six months. Only later did someone tell them that they could apply for Government funding for help.(3)

Another mother, talking about her six year old daughter said: “It’s hard for her to leave her dad after the prison visits. She just cries and cries. She knows she’s not going to see him.”

Barnardo’s is calling on the government to introduce a ‘national action plan’ to plug the ‘policy black hole’ around prisoners’ children.

Barnardo’s CEO Javed Khan says: “Children are the forgotten victims of the prison system. Every week thousands of innocent children pay the price for crimes they did not commit.

These children may spend tiring hours travelling to a prison and then several more hours stuck inside waiting to see their dad or other relative. They may be met by frightening guards and sniffer dogs and subjected to a ‘rub down’ or more detailed body search.

“Children of prisoners have done nothing wrong and do not deserve punishment for their parent’s crimes. The distress of a prison visit can be long-lasting; a child should not be left to pick up the pieces on their own.

“Prisoners’ children are completely overlooked. We want to see these children brought out of the shadows and given the support they need.”

It is estimated that there are 200,000 children of prisoners in England and Wales. After being separated from a parent, they may be stigmatised, bullied and isolated. Research shows that parental imprisonment can damage educational attainment, emotional development, mental health and behaviour. This can lead to school exclusion, truancy, delinquent behaviour and an increased risk of offending themselves. (4)

On average, most schools will have at least one child with a family member in prison. Yet no-one keeps a record of these children or works to ensure their wellbeing is considered in prison policy making.

Barnardo’s says the national action plan must stretch from the point of sentencing to the parent’s release from prison.

It says that, at a minimum, the plan should include:

  • appointing a government minister with responsibility for children of prisoners in England.
  • ensuring courts routinely ask about an offender's children when he or she is sentenced to prison in England and Wales
  • a better understanding of the nature and  scale of child prison visits
  • more research into the culture and practices that surround them.

Read full report

Notes to editors

Applies to England and Wales only

  1. Barnardo’s Freedom of Information requests cover all the public prisons in England and Wales (120 prisons). It does not include the 14 private prisons.
    In total the number of visits made to prisons by children is:
    506,694 Per year ( 2013)
    42,225Per month (average)
    1,387Per day (average)
  2. Based on a different data set to the above figures, the average monthly total of unique prison visits by children in 2013 was 17,750. Assuming that each visit had one child visitor means that on average around 18,000 children visited prison every month in 2013.
  3. Child with a parent in prison, Bristol CSOF project Visiting Time, Barnardo’s 2014
  4. Sixty five per cent of boys with a convicted father will go on to offend themselves – Reducing re-offending by Ex-Prisoners, Social Exclusion Unit, Cabinet Office, 2002
  5. Family of four, Isle of Wight Visiting Time 2014. In 2007 it was estimated that the cost to families of having a family member in prison is £175 per month – this includes the cost of transport for visits and money given to the prisoner for canteen items. Allowing for inflation the cost now is likely to be over £200 per month. Action for Prisoners Families 2013

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