Nearly 300 children in Ireland whose mothers are behind bars

Nearly 300 children in Ireland whose mothers are behind bars

Molly Joyce

There are close to 300 children in the State whose mothers are imprisoned, with devastating effects on the children and their families, according to a new report.

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) estimates that 278 children are impacted by maternal imprisonment and recommends that the courts take the impact on children into account when sentencing mothers.

The NGO’s report, published this morning, argues that non-custodial measures “at both pre-trial and sentencing stages should be the preferred position for pregnant women and women with dependent children”.

It also calls for government departments and the Irish Prison Service to conduct more relevant research in the area of maternal imprisonment, collecting more data and raising awareness of the issues.

Molly Joyce, IPRT’s acting executive director, said: “There is considerable harm caused to children when their mother – who is often the primary carer – is imprisoned.

“Imprisonment of a child’s primary caregiver can have an extremely detrimental impact on the child, with parental imprisonment recognised as one of 10 adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) which can have a lasting impact on people into adulthood.

“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.

“This scoping study particularly highlights the need for action across government to reduce the negative impacts of maternal imprisonment on children.”

Alongside the launch of the report, IPRT has also launched a new project on children and families of people in prison, which aims to tackle intergenerational cycles of disadvantage and imprisonment through supporting family relationships and return from prison to the community.

Ashling Tobin, IPRT’s new project co-ordinator, will be responsible for progressing the work of the existing Action for Children and Families of Prisoners Network and advocating for implementation of recommendations in IPRT’s 2021 report on children and families with a family member in prison as well as today’s new report on maternal imprisonment.

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