Behind Bars, Unseen Hearts: Over 100,000 Children in England and Wales Have Parents in Prison

Together we are Forbes


06 October, 2023

Craig MacKenzie

More than 100,000 children have a parent in prison for the first time since records began, according to analysis of government figures.

An official Ministry of Justice estimate says that each male prisoner has, on average, 1.14 children, meaning that an estimated 100,084 children have a parent in prison. Estimates for the number of children affected by parental imprisonment in the UK in a year vary, with the most recent being as high as 312,000.

Many children with a parent in prison lead positive and fulfilling lives. However, a range of research shows that they are more likely to suffer from problems later in life, including mental health problems, homelessness and poverty. Crucially, they are also more likely to get involved in crime.

The charity Prison Advice and Care Trust is calling on the Government to:

  1. Make better use of community sentences for people who have committed non-violent offences. Around three in five people sent to prison to serve a sentence have committed a non-violent offence.
  2. Reconsider its prison-building programme to create an additional 20,000 prison places. England & Wales have the highest imprisonment rates in western Europe, with people behind bars expected to top 100,000 by the middle of the decade.
  3. Create a new ministerial position responsible for developing a joined-up action plan to support these children, working across Education, Justice, Health and Policing.

Charity CEO Andy Keen Downs said:

"This is a grim milestone that says a lot about our approach to criminal justice in this country. By imprisoning record numbers of parents we are storing up a whole raft of problems, the impact of which will be felt for decades to come.

Children are extraordinarily resilient, and with the proper support, many children with a parent in prison can lead great lives. However, it is a sad fact that they are more likely to suffer from a whole range of problems later in life including mental health problems, homelessness and poverty, as well as being more likely to get involved in crime.

The public believes prison is the right place for many people who offend. However, it's time for the Government to reconsider its prison expansion programme and to make better use of community sentences for people who have committed a non-violent offence. In a rush to get 'tough on crime' and imprison ever greater numbers of people, ministers seem to have given little consideration to the long-lasting damage this policy will wreak on children and families."

What can we do?

A body of case law requires a court to regard dependant children before imposing a custodial sentence upon the carer. Our advocates are trained in these issues and will ensure detailed and robust submissions are made to a sentencing court.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child has indicated that the best interests of the child of a defendant or an imprisoned parent must be considered carefully and independently by 'competent professionals and taken into account in all decisions related to detention, including pre-trial detention and sentencing, and decisions concerning the placement of the child'

In the leading case of Petherick [2012] EWCA Crim 2214 the Court of Appeal laid down nine crucial principles to be considered before imposing imprisonment on the carer of a child. Our advocates ensure that in all cases, the court focuses carefully on all those factors before reaching a sentencing decision.

Suppose you are facing an investigation or prosecution for any criminal offence. In that case, you should seek legal advice immediately to ensure the most favourable outcome for you and your family.

How can Forbes Solicitors help?

We ensure we keep up to date with any changes in legislation and case law so that we are always best placed to advise you properly. If you want to discuss any aspect of your case, please get in touch with Craig MacKenzie, Partner and head of the High-Profile & Private Crime Division on the details below.

For more information contact Craig MacKenzie in our Crime department via email or phone on 01772 220 022. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.

Learn more about our Crime department here

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