LETTER: Plight of thousands of children

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As we enter a new year, I would like to draw your readers’ attention to the plight of thousands of children across the UK. And the fact that the prison system is jeopardising thousands of children’s right to see their dads.

Barnardo’s new survey of the prison visiting system in England and Wales finds that visiting hours are increasingly being taken away to punish prisoners leaving some children with just two hours a month to visit their dad.

Although the survey finds that pockets of good practice exist, the number of prisoners awarded just two hours visits ‘basic’ status has soared by 52 per cent since the ‘Incentives and Earned Privileges’ (IEP) scheme was changed in 2013. Meanwhile those awarded the ‘enhanced’ status of four or more visiting hours has fallen by 16 per cent.

But children with a parent in prison are the innocent victims of someone else’s crime. They struggle with the heartbreak of having their parent suddenly taken away, and often don’t understand why. Intensifying that loss by taking away precious hours with their parent, or making visits unnecessarily uncomfortable, will only punish the children.

That’s why Barnardo’s is calling for an end to family visits being used to discipline prisoners. Having a parent in prison can leave children more likely to develop mental health issues, underperform at school, and tragically go on to offend themselves. The Ministry of Justice ‘Children of Offenders Review’ found that 65 per cent of boys with a convicted parent go on to offend, but that regular visiting can help cut dads’ re-offending by 39 per cent.

It’s time for a sea change in the way these overlooked and isolated children are treated. Government and prisons must work together to ensure that the visiting system, whilst recognising the need for security, never punishes children.

Jonathan Whalley, director, Barnardo’s South East and Anglia

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