A double-edged sword: Children’s experiences of visiting a parent in prison in Scotland

AuthorNancy Loucks,Kelly Lockwood,Tony Long,Kathryn Sharratt,Ben Raikes
Published date01 June 2022
Date01 June 2022
Subject MatterArticles
A double-edged sword:
Children’s experiences
of visiting a parent in
prison in Scotland
Kelly Lockwood and Tony Long
University of Salford, UK
Nancy Loucks
Families Outside, UK
Ben Raikes and Kathryn Sharratt
University of Huddersfield, UK
Prison visits are recognised as an important feature of a humane prison system,
providing important benefits for prisoners and their family in maintaining ties
(McCarthy and Adams, 2017). Scotland has a history of penal welfarism and a right-
based agenda in relation to visits (McCarthy and Adams, 2017); however, there is a
lack of research that focuses on visits in the context of Scottish prisons. Equally, there is
limited research that considers the perspective of children visiting a parent in custody.
This paper explores the experiences of children visiting a parent in prison in Scotland,
highlighting lessons for policy and practice.
children of prisoners, families of prisoners, visits, child-centred, Scotland
Scotland’sprison population has grown in recent years,with around 8,000 people in
custody at any time (Scottish Prison Service, 2020). Consequently, the number of
Corresponding Author:
Kelly Lockwood, University of Salford, Room 510, Allerton Building, Salford M54WT, UK.
Email: k.a.lockwood@salford.ac.uk
Probation Journal
ªThe Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/02645505211025592
The Journal of Community and Criminal Justice
2022, Vol. 69(2) 159–176
families affected by a relative’s imprisonment has also increased. Each year in
Scotland around 20–27,000 children experience the imprisonment of a parent
(Scottish Government, 2017a). Contact during custodyis critical to the maintenance
of family ties, facilitating prisoner well-being, reducing prison infractions, encoura-
ging adjustment to prison life, and supporting successful resettlement (Raikes and
Lockwood, 2019; McCarthy and Adams, 2017; Woodall and Kinsella, 2017).
Despite this,the needs of families of prisonershave historically been overlooked by
policy makers in the UK (Booth, 2020; Perry, 2016; Woodall and Kinsella, 2017).
More recently the FarmerReview (2017) explored the role of prisoners’families as a
‘resettlement agency’ and a pathway to reducing re-offending. Consistent with aca-
demic research, the review noted the importance of visits for maintaining and/or
developing familyties (Farmer, 2017). However,the experience of children visiting a
parent in prison is explored less in academic research. What is known about the
visiting experience has also tended to emerge frominterviews with children’s parents
and/or caregivers. Few studies have incorporated views of children themselves,
though there are exceptions (Flynn, 2014; Jones et al., 2013; Lockwood and Raikes,
2011, 2019; McGinley and Jones, 2018). Research in the UK has also largely
focused on England and Wales, with the Scottish context less well explored. With
high levels of social inequality disproportionately distributed within its prison popu-
lation (McCarthy and Adams, 2017), specific recognition of the needs and experi-
ences of children with a parent in prison in Scotland is merited as these families are
more likely to have multiple disadvantages and complex needs (Phillips and Erkanli,
2008). Equally,visitation remains challenging for manyfamilies in Scotland owing to
distance of the prison from their homes (Loucks, 2012). Drawing on a wider study
exploring the experiences of children with a parent involved in the criminal justice
system in Glasgow, this paper addresses gaps in knowledge to explore the experi-
ences of children visiting a parent in prison in Scotland.
Parents in prison and their children
Scotland has one of the highest rates of imprisonment in Europe (Scottish Centre for
Crime and Justice Research (SCCJR, 2019) and almost two-thirds of Scottish pris-
oners are parents (Howard League Scotland, 2015). Specific recognition of the
needs of children affected by parental imprisonment in Scotland is merited, as these
are often among the most complex cases encountered by child protection services
(Phillips and Erkanli, 2008).
Children of prisoners have been referred to as ‘invisible’ victims of punishment, as
the challenges they experience are often not immediately recognised (Perry, 2016;
SCCJR, 2019). They may experience a range of difficulties including behavioural
problems, anxiety, anger, confusion and depression (Flynn, 2014; Jones et al.,
2013; SCCJR, 2019); and are disproportionally represented amongst children
accessing mental health services (Phillips et al., 2002). They are known to have
higher emotional needs than their peers (Woodall and Kinsella, 2017); and can
experience symptoms indicative o f post-traumatic stress disorder (Sharratt, 2014).
160 Probation Journal 69(2)

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