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Heartache of parents in jail : LETTERS

From Mr Robert Shaw Sir: Your article of 18 January, "When mummy or daddy goes to jail", describes vividly some of the experiences of children whose parents are imprisoned. Nevertheless, it greatly understates the size and seriousness of the problem.

The writer, Beverly Kemp, explains that there are 47,000 male prisoners, 32 per cent of whom are fathers with dependent children. If, however, one considers the number of people sent to prison, as distinct from the prison population on a particular day, the numbers are far greater. Research undertaken at Cambridge University Institute of Criminology identified that every year in England and Wales the fathers of more than 100,000 children are sent to prison. The impact on many of these children is severe, frequently adding emotional trauma to existing economic and social disadvantage.

The majority of prisoners are sent into custody for very short periods, sometimes only for a few days; parents are then seduced into explaining father's absence in other ways, such as his working on an oil rig. Often the child discovers the truth from elsewhere and damage to the parent/child relationship results. Research has disclosed children truanting from school, running away from home, failing to thrive, attempting suicide and, in one case, a boy trying to break into a prison to be with his father.Teachers described deep-seated unhappiness and the subsequent development of delinquency.

The incarceration of parents does more than simply upset and hurt the family; it lays down foundations for the development of future criminal careers. Any policy which seeks to increase the use of imprisonment is not only punishing children who are innocent victims, it is also helping to increase crime, delinquency and anti-social behaviour in the future.

Yours faithfully, ROGER SHAW Chief Probation Officer Powys Probation Service Llandrindod Wells, Powys 20 January