Families face a range of issues and difficulties.
All families are different and face a range of issues but we have listed some of the common challenges that families tell us about.
The challenges faced will be different depending on the age of the family member and their relationship to the prisoner. Things will also change as the sentence progresses and release can bring particular challenges.
Please see our information sheets for more on the issues that families face.
Having a family member in prison can be isolating. Friends and relatives may pull away, meaning their normal support networks have gone.
Children may be bullied because of the imprisonment of a loved-one. This can lead to truancy and school refusal affecting their life-chances. Some children may need to move schools which will disrupt existing friendship networks and support.
Families may feel shame because of the actions of their loved-ones. Parents often report feeling guilty and wishing they had done something differently. This shame might make it difficult for them to share their stories and so increase isolation.
Loss and Helplessness
Families suffer from the loss of a loved-one. This can be very stark at the beginning of a sentence as there is usually a period of silence as prison phone systems are set up.
As well as losing the income of the person in prison, families face a range of financial difficulties. Parents or grandparents may have to leave work or reduce hours to look after children. There is also the cost of travel to the prison, sending money in to the prisoner. Unfortunately, families are sometimes also under pressure to handover money to drug dealers.
There may be press and media for the family to deal with, and this can result in alienation from other family and friends.
Telling the Children
Parents sometimes struggle with telling the children and may feel that they are protecting their child by saying that “mum or dad are away working”. In these cases, children may struggle to understand the loss of the parent and the changed behaviour of the adults around them.
Families may have to move home due to financial reasons or in some cases for their own safety have to move house and live with grandparents or foster parents which can be disrupting and unsettling.
These can be difficult and involve long, expensive journeys. Sometimes children are visiting a prison but believe they are going to a workplace. This can be confusing and upsetting, as when they arrive they are unable to interact normally with parent.
Mental Health Issues
Children of prisoners are twice as likely to suffer from mental health issues. The sudden removal of a parent from the family can create feelings of separation and loss, similar to bereavement. Children may be anxious that their other parent might also be taken away or about the welfare of their imprisoned family member. Children of prisoners have 3 times the risk of anti-social behaviour compared to their peers.