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  • Writer's pictureClare Jerrom

Children in custody missing out on family visits

Children in prison placed a long distance from their home are missing out on family visits, the HM Inspectorate of Prisons has warned.

Writing a blog to mark International Day of Families, Angus Jones, Team Leader for Children and Young People, highlights that 40% of children are held more than 50 miles from home including 15% that are more than 100 miles away. This makes it difficult for families, who are often low income or have other children to look after, to visit.

"Our 2016 inspection into the impact of the distance from home on children in custody found that every 25 miles further that a child was held from home was associated with one less visit from a family member or friend," said Angus Jones. "Regular phone calls are meant to mitigate this, but the cost is incredibly high for those living in young offender institutions (around £1.40 for a 20 minute conversation) substantially limiting many children’s ability to call their family."

Mr Jones acknowledges that for a minority of prisoners, family contact is not appropriate – their family may be the victims of their crime, or in the case of children in custody they may have restricted access to family because they are in the care system.

However, HM Inspectorate of Prisons' 2014 thematic inspection into resettlement provision found that, for the majority, a prisoner’s family is the most effective resettlement agency, providing more accommodation and employment opportunities than any professional support service.

Furthermore, above all groups of prisoners, children need the most support to maintain these key relationships.

However, rather than enable children to keep in touch with their families, the current system creates unnecessary barriers, Mr Jones warns.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these problems and the amount of visit slots has been reduced in many YOIs. At most sites it is now impossible for a child on remand to receive their full entitlement of three visits a week.

Access to weekend or evening visits has also reduced making it much harder for families who might be working or caring for other family members to visit.

HM Inspectorate of Prisons found in their surveys of children carried out before each inspection that just 12% of children in YOIs reported receiving a visit once a week or more.

But a positive development introduced during the pandemic was the introduction of secure video calls for children. This valuable resource has been shown to be popular when children are supported to access them.

At Wetherby 430 video calls took place each month, however at other establishments the opportunity created by this new resource has been squandered and very few video calls take place.

"There is a coherent argument that the failure to enable children to maintain their family relationships is concerning because of the implications for future reoffending. More important for me though is that for many children I meet in prison, their family is all they have, and it should be much easier for them to stay in touch," concluded Mr Jones.


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