With the prison population now at an all-time high, new research published today demonstrates how prisoners’ families are facing their own hidden sentence of financial hardship and emotional strain.
Pact, Prison Advice and Care Trust, is the national Catholic charity supporting people in prison and their children and families. Pact’s new report, ‘Serving a Hidden Sentence’ documents how families, already on low incomes and affected by rising prices, are being hit by additional costs and are struggling to cover the basics for themselves and their children.
In addition, families describe suffering from a widespread social stigma associated with imprisonment and that their mental and physical health suffer as a result.
Prisoners’ families are often hit by a ‘double whammy’ of costs – the loss of a partner’s income, coupled with the extra costs associated with staying in touch with and supporting their loved-one through a sentence.
The Government’s research shows that prisoners who stay in touch with family and significant others are 39% less likely to return to crime after prison – so nurturing family relationships where appropriate is hugely important for the common good of our communities. However, 56% of families said money had affected their ability to stay in touch with a loved one in prison.
Key findings from family members:
The harms of imprisonment are not just financial. Many respondents said their health had suffered. The social stigma associated with imprisonment can often result in people seeking to hide or avoid talking about what has happened to their loved-one:
On Monday, the Justice Secretary announced a series of welcome measures, including greater use of community sentences and an early release scheme, which should result in a fall in the prison population. However, the prison population is at an all-time high – 88,225 people are in prison – and the prison population has grown by 80% in the last three decades.
Significant progress has been made in recent years to support prisoners to stay in touch with their families. However, in response to the findings, Pact is calling on the Government to:
Andy Keen-Downs, CEO of Pact said:
“This research lays bare the devastating impact that the imprisonment of a loved-one has on hundreds of thousands of families and children across England & Wales.
“Extra costs and a loss of household income are heaping extra pressure on people already affected by the cost of living crisis. But the impact stretches well beyond financial problems, as family members struggle with the social stigma associated with imprisonment and their physical and mental health deteriorate.
“The Government has this week announced welcome new measures that should lead to a reduction in the prison population. However, right now, the number of people behind bars has never been higher and that means record numbers of families and children suffering the consequences.
“Maintaining family ties plays a crucial role in reducing reoffending. If we are serious about cutting crime and delivering safer communities, we must support prisoners to stay in touch with family. By working together, the prison service and a range of partners have made huge progress in recent years, but this research shows that there is still much that could be done.”