A report from the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) has called for measures to reduce the harm caused to children by the imprisonment of women.
Its study estimates that around 278 children in Ireland are currently affected by maternal imprisonment.
Among the report’s 29 recommendations is a call to consider the impact on children when sentencing mothers and, in particular, to consider non-custodial measures when sentencing mothers.
“Alternatives to prosecution and diversionary measures should be considered and strengthened, where a woman does not pose a danger or serious threat to safety and society.” the report recommends.
The IPRT has also urged Government and State agencies – including the Department of Justice, the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, and the Irish Prison Service – to take action to reduce the harm caused to children of sentenced mothers.
It wants these bodies to conduct more relevant research in the area, collect more data, and raise awareness of the issues surrounding maternal imprisonment.
The study also recommends measures to enable children with mothers in prison to express their views on matters directly impacting them, adding that a bill of rights for children with a parent in prison should also be considered.
It suggests that bodies such as the Judicial Council, Law Society, and Bar Council should consider incorporating training on the impact of maternal imprisonment, “so that judges and other relevant criminal-justice officials have sufficient insight into these issues to properly weigh it as a factor in decision-making”.
“Imprisonment of a child’s primary caregiver can have an extremely detrimental impact on the child, with parental imprisonment recognised as one of ten ‘adverse childhood experiences’ (ACEs), which can have a lasting impact on people into adulthood,” said Molly Joyce (IPRT Acting Executive Director).
“As it stands, our various services are failing to adequately safeguard the rights and needs of children and families of prisoners, and action is needed to provide support to these families,” she added.
IPRT has also launched a new project on children and families of people in prison.
Its goal is to tackle what the organisation calls “inter-generational cycles of disadvantage and imprisonment”, by supporting family relationships, and return from prison to the community.