Letter: Prison children

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Sir: The review of prison mother and baby units (report, 4 December), is much to be welcomed. If the Government's Social Exclusion Unit believes in "joined up solutions to joined up problems", support for mothers in prison with an infant is an excellent place to start.

This is because prisoners who have suffered excessive punishment or neglect in childhood are at risk of repeating the pattern of poor parenting. Children who fear or despise their parents for too much control, or too little concern, enter school with a negative approach to all adult authority. In defying the teacher, they may disrupt classes, alienate staff and forfeit friends. Eventually such children are excluded. Bored and isolated at home they discover the distraction and excitement of delinquency.

Sir Keith Joseph pinpointed this downward spiral, passed on from parent to child, as the "cycle of deprivation". It is vital that we break the cycle by teaching mothers in prison to understand and enjoy their children. Since the care of children is also very hard work with huge demands on patience and stamina, the mother in prison should be linked to one of the many informal groups that will now support any parents who find their task overwhelming.