125,000 children neglected by prison service

11 June 2004

Inside FatherhoodMore than 125,000 children affected annually by paternal incarceration are seriously failed by the prison service, according to a Government-funded report published today in advance of Fathers’ Day (June 20)

Reoffending drops by up to six times, if imprisoned fathers stay in touch with their families (‘Family Ties and Recidivism’, Home Office Research Bulletin 36) and their children are also less likely to commit crimes. Yet prison practice makes it difficult to maintain links. 

  • There are no standard arrangements for imprisoned fathers to attend the birth of their child or to see their new born child 
  • 49 out of 139 prisons still have no visitors’ centre 
  • 11,000 prisoners are held more than 100 miles from home 
  • Many prisons have no officer responsible for dealing with prisoners’ families 
  • Information about fatherhood and family responsibilities is not routinely recorded by prison staff 
  • Parental status is rarely considered in relation to fathers at sentencing. 
  • Regular telephone contact between fathers and children is difficult because prison wages often fund only enough time for conversations with partners. 
  • Half of young fathers receive no visits from their children.

The study, entitled Inside Fatherhood, was commissioned by the DfES’ Offenders’ Learning and Skills Unit and is published by Fathers Direct, the national information centre on fatherhood. It reports that many children find it difficult to cope when dad is jailed, facing bullying, stigmatisation, confusion, insecurity, poverty and loneliness in the absence of their dads. One in three witness their fathers’ arrest. More than half of sons go on to be convicted of offences by the age of 32.

The report highlights good practice, particularly in the development of fatherhood courses in Young Offender Institutions, where 25 per cent of men are, or expect shortly to become, fathers, a figure that is six times higher than the average for this age group.

David Walmsley, who recently retired as Governor of HMP Ashwell in Rutland and was interviewed for the report, comments on the prisons’ fatherhood course: "The results are very rewarding. You can really see the lads changing. They become proud of their improved relationships with their children .If the lads have increased confidence in themselves they have more chance of standing up against peer pressure to reoffend."

Duncan Fisher, Director of Fathers Direct, said:

"Children are the innocent victims of imprisonment. They should not become the next jailed generation. We must extend innovative practice so that the prison system develops the fatherhood of inmates for the sake of their children, their partners and the long-term goal of reducing offending."

Today’s report calls for innovative good practice to be adopted more widely by prisons. 

  • Some prisons, such as HMP Greenock in Scotland, give fathers opportunities to make CDs or videos of themselves reading stories that children can then enjoy at home. Robert Clark, a prison officer in charge of parenting education at HMP Greenock said: "The children love it. They play the tapes again and again. One lad’s child played it at home and another child was watching and wanted a copy herself." 
  • Sure Start Swansea is running a 10-week parenting programme in the town’s prison and workers act as "buddies" to released dads. Another buddy scheme is operated in Doncaster by Dearne Valley Dads, supported by the YMCA and Church of England. 
  • The charity Safe Ground has developed an award-winning 18-minute parenting film using Wandsworth prisoners as actors and based on Oscar Wilde’s The Selfish Giant. Wilde’s book is about a giant who keeps children out of his beautiful garden and inspires a film focussing on the gulf between some prisoners and their children. The film is a central feature of a highly regarded new parenting course, called "Family Man", now being used in some prisons.

Key Facts

  • 125,000 The number of children estimated to be affected by parental imprisonment.
  • One third The proportion of prisons that have no visitors’ centre.
  • 49 The percentage of prisoners who have been excluded from school.
  • 85 The percentage of adult offenders who expect to live with or close to their children after release.
  • 25 The percentage of men in Young Offender Institutions who are or expect shortly to become fathers.
  • Half The proportion of young fathers in prison who do not receive visits from their children. Nearly a half of young fathers do not have telephone contact.
  • 30 The percentage of prisoners’ children who have significant health problems, compared with 10 per cent level for children in general.
  • 1 in 3 The proportion of children who witness their father’s arrest.
  • 59 The percentage of boys, with a convicted parent, who go on to be convicted themselves by the age of 32.

Notes to Editors: 

Fathers Direct is the national information centre on fatherhood. A charity, established in 1999, Fathers Direct aims to create a society that gives all children a strong and positive relationship with their fathers and other male carers and prepares boys and girls for a future shared role in caring for children. 

Inside Fatherhood, a guide to giving inmates, children and partners a fresh start, is published today by Fathers Direct and was commissioned by The Offenders’ Learning and Skills Units (DfES). It is available at £5.95 from Fathers Direct at www.fatherhoodinstitute.org or 020 7920 9491

Fathers Direct, Herald House, Lambs Passage, Bunhill Row, London EC1Y 8TQ 020 7 920 9491 enquiries@fathersdirect.com Registered charity no 1075104.


Gwyneth Boswell and Peter Wedge, "Imprisoned Fathers and their Children", Jessica Kingsley Publishers (2002)
2 Safeground Annual Report 2002
3 Boswell and Wedge (above)
4 HM Chief Inspector of Prisons (1997)
5 Boswell and Wedge. (above)
6 D Philbrick (1997) in "The Child and Prison: Proceedings of a Conference" held at Grey College, Durham.
7 C Noble, Prisoners and their Families: The Every Day Reality, (1995) Ormiston Trust.
8 DP Farrington, (1995) Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 36,6, 929-964.