Prisoners and their families

The latest material added to the Australian Institute of Family Studies library database is displayed, up to a maximum of 30 items. Where available online, a link to the document is provided. Many items can be borrowed from the Institute's library via the Interlibrary loan system.

See more resources on Prisoners and their families in the AIFS library catalogue

Partners in crime: the relationship between disadvantage and Australia's criminal justice systems

Centre for Policy Development (Sydney, N.S.W.)
Sydney, N.S.W. : Centre for Policy Development, 2020.
This paper highlights the relationship between disadvantage and Australia's criminal justice systems, and sets out the 3 key drivers for change. Drawing on consultations with experts from across the sector, it discusses cycles of disadvantage, how default criminal justice system responses compound existing disadvantage, the impact of parental incarceration on children, and what is needed for reform.

Earlier contact with child protection services among children of parents with criminal convictions and mental disorders.

Whitten T, Dean K, Li R, Laurens K, Harris F, Carr V and Green M
Child Maltreatment: Journal of the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children 13 Mar 2020: Advance online publication
Parent mental illness and parent criminal offending are both risk factors for child maltreatment - but does parent gender play a role? This article compares whether children are in contact with the child protection system earlier when it is their mother or their father with a mental illness or history of offending. Data is taken from administrative records for 71,661 children. The findings indicate that children with fathers who offend are more likely to have an early first contact with child protection services. However, children with mothers who either offend or have a mental illness are more likely to be placed in out of home care early. These findings help highlight at risk groups that could benefit from intervention.

Observing the Strong Culture, Strong Families Program as an innovative Indigenous justice program and more

Howard-Wagner D and Evans D
Canberra : Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, 2020.
'Strong Culture, Strong Families' is a prison-based program run for Aboriginal male detainees and their families in the Australian Capital Territory. It draws on culture to create a positive parenting experience for Aboriginal male detainees and their children, break the cycle of intergenerational offending, strengthen family relationships, and build the capacity of adults caring for Aboriginal children with incarcerated parents. This paper describes the program and how it operates, and presents insights from observations of two program sessions. 'Strong Culture, Strong Families is an innovative volunteer Indigenous justice program with great promise, but it needs further resourcing and evaluation.

Indigenous people in Australia and New Zealand and the intergenerational effects of incarceration

Roettger M, Lockwood K and Dennison S
Sydney, N.S.W. : Indigenous Justice Clearinghouse, 2019.
Indigenous Australians and Maori in New Zealand face disproportional rates of imprisonment, with disproportionate impacts on their children. Experience of parental incarceration compounds existing adversities, and Indigenous children are already at higher risk of residential instability, abuse and neglect, and poverty. This paper reviews the research on interventions for improving outcomes of Indigenous children who experience parental imprisonment, and identifies the types of programs and policies required. It discusses the intergenerational effects of parental imprisonment, Indigenous participation in policy and programs, reducing incarceration, minimising trauma from separation, parenting skills intervention, and wraparound services. Though the evidence base is limited, some recommendations can be made. A multi-pronged approach is required to address the interlinked and complex needs associated with incarceration, disadvantage, and intergenerational trauma.

Safeguarding children during the arrest of their primary carer mothers : the role of the police.

He M and Flynn C
Probation Journal v. 66 no. 4 2019: 434-450
As the number of female offenders increases, so too does the number of children witnessing their mother's arrest. This article explores this issue, with a survey of 36 mothers arrested in Victoria. The women were asked about the circumstances and location of their arrest, its perceived impact on their children, and police responses to their children during the arrest process. In this sample, about half of the mothers had their children present during the arrest, and the women felt that the police largely responded poorly, with discussion about suitable care for the children occurring in less than two-thirds of cases.

Did we forget something? Fathering supports and programs in prisons in Victoria, Australia.

Bartlett T and Trotter C
International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology v. 63 no. 8 2019: 1465-1481
This article investigates fathering support programs in prison in Victoria. It briefly reviews the international literature on formal fathering supports in prisons then presents findings from interviews with 39 primary carer fathers incarcerated in Victoria. The fathers were asked about the parenting supports and services that had been offered during their imprisonment, and their use of and attitudes towards such programs. Though the findings indicate that there is an absence of fathering support in Victorian prisons, they also show that fathers are looking for ways to maintain father-child relationships from prison and are open to being supported. This study is part of a broader project with incarcerated fathers in New South Wales and Victoria.

Supporting incarcerated fathers : an exploration of research and practice in Victoria, Australia.

Bartlett T
Probation Journal v. 66 no. 2 2019: 201-218
This article reviews the research on the experiences and needs of incarcerated fathers and what the evidence says about supporting father-child relationships during a father's imprisonment. It looks at the number of children with incarcerated fathers, the impact on child wellbeing, the benefits and challenges of prison visiting, supported visits and fathering units, and educational fathering programs. Research from Victoria is highlighted where available. Despite gaps in the evidence, the available research highlights the benefits of supported family visits and the importance of design and social infrastructure in the development of such programs.

The intergenerational transmission of criminal offending behaviours: a national study

Tzoumakis S, Burton M, Carr V, Dean K, Laurens K and Green M
Canberra, A.C.T. : Criminology Research Grants Program, Australian Institute of Criminology, 2019.
This paper investigates whether there is a link between parents' offending and children's developmental vulnerabilities. It draws on data of 87,026 children and their parents from the New South Wales Child Development Study, which links data from the Australian Early Development Census, data from the Middle Childhood Survey at age 5 and 11, and records on parents' criminal offences and criminal court appearances. The study focused on early and middle childhood, which are key developmental periods for intervention and prevention of antisocial behaviour and aggression. Other outcomes included are social competence, emotional maturity, language and cognitive development, communication and general knowledge, and physical health and wellbeing. The study found that both maternal and paternal offending was associated with adverse outcomes in children, in particular for parents with violent and frequent offending. The findings on the impact on behaviour problems are also summarised in the trends & issues in crime and criminal justice paper 'Parental offending and children's conduct problems'.

Parental offending and child physical health, mental health, and drug use outcomes : a systematic literature review.

Whitten T, Burton M, Tzoumakis S and Dean K
Journal of Child and Family Studies v. 28 no. 5 May 2019: 1155-1168
This article reviews the literature on what is known about the impacts of having a parent involved in crime. It presents a systematic review of parental offending and their children's physical and mental health, for children aged 0-17 years old. The review found that parental offending was associated with poor physical health in young children and drug use in adolescence. However, a direct causal link couldn't be determined, with some outcomes being at least partially explained by other factors.

Parental offending and children's conduct problems

Tzoumakis S, Burton M, Carr V, Dean K, Laurens K and Green M
Canberra, ACT : Australian Institute of Criminology, 2019
This paper investigates whether there is a link between parents' offending and children's behaviour problems. It draws on data of over 21,000 children and their parents from the NSW Child Development Study, which links data from the Australian Early Development Census, data from the Middle Childhood Survey at age 11, and records on parents' criminal offences and criminal court appearances. The study found that parental offending increases a child's likelihood of conduct problems, most greatly with maternal violent offending. It also found that the intergenerational transmission of antisocial behaviour begins early, highlighting the importance of intervention for at-risk children and their parents.

Universal approaches to promoting healthy development

Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Brookings Institution
Princeton, NJ : The Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University and The Brookings Institution, 2018.

Social exclusion in families affected by paternal imprisonment.

Besemer K and Dennison S
Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology v. 51 no. 2 Jun 2018: 221-238
This article adds to the research on social exclusion among caregivers of children affected by paternal incarceration, by comparing its prevalence and experience to that of the general population and the mediators involved. It finds that caregivers of children with imprisoned fathers experience significantly high rates of social exclusion, though, compared to a matched sample, this is mostly related to financial hardship.

Family imprisonment, maternal parenting stress and its impact on mother-child relationship satisfaction.

Besemer K and Dennison S
Journal of Child and Family Studies v. 27 no. 12 Dec 2018: 3897-3908
One theory for why parental imprisonment has a negative impact on children is that it affects the other parent's ability to provide secure parenting. This is set out in the Family Stress-Proximal Process (FSPP) model, which conceptualises family imprisonment as an ongoing stressor that influences relational processes. This article explores this theory by examining maternal parenting stress and relationship satisfaction with their children in women affected by close family imprisonment, drawing on data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey.

Mother-and-infant facilities at Adelaide Women's Prison: a cost effective measure in the best interests of the child

McIntyre J
Adelaide, S. Aust. : University of South Australia, 2017.
Mother-and-infant facilities in prisons can provide early and effective intervention to address the devastating impact of parental imprisonment on a child's emotional and physical wellbeing. This paper calls for such a facility to be established at Adelaide Women's Prison in South Australia. It reviews what is known about the negative effects of maternal incarceration on children and their rights, assesses the benefits and efficacy of mother-and-infant facilities, then outlines the potential financial costs and benefits of setting up a mother-and-infant facility in Adelaide. Additional material is included in appendices: a design proposal for Adelaide Women's Prison and estimated costs, a table profiling the size and nature of facilities in Australia and the United States, and findings from an ongoing PhD research project on the early-life experiences of infants of Western Australian women prisoners [not published online].

Using linked data to investigate developmental vulnerabilities in children of convicted parents.

Bell M, Bayliss D, Glauert R and Ohan J
Developmental Psychology v. 54 no. 7 2018: 1219-1231
This article adds to the evidence on the risk of poor developmental and educational outcomes among the children of incarcerated parents. Records of parental convictions from the Western Australian Department of Justice were linked to assessment scores from the Australian Early Development Census for children aged 0-6 years old. The findings showed that children whose parent had either served a community order or been incarcerated were at risk of poor development across all developmental domains, even after adjusting for sociodemographic factors - the children of incarcerated parents were at particular risk. Although these children experienced a higher incidence of sociodemographic risk - such as low educational levels, unemployment, substance abuse, unstable relationships and other factors - their parents' criminal activity constituted an independent risk factor for their development. Although previous research has suggested outcomes are worse for children when it is the mother who is incarcerated, parent gender was not significant in this study.

Parenting interventions for incarcerated parents to improve parenting knowledge and skills, parent well-being, and quality of the parent-child relationship : a systematic review and meta-analysis.

Armstrong E, Eggins E, Reid N, Harnett P and Dawe S
Journal of Experimental Criminology v. 14 no. 3 Sep 2018: 279-317
This article reviews the evidence for the impact of parenting interventions for incarcerated parents. A systematic review was conducted for research on the impact on parenting knowledge and skills, parent well-being, and quality of the parent-child relationship - identifying 16 suitable studies. The findings indicate only small to moderate short-term benefits.

The importance of strengthening prisoners' family ties to prevent reoffending and reduce intergenerational crime

Farmer M
London : Ministry of Justice, 2017.
"The Secretary of State commissioned this Review to investigate how supporting men in prison in England and Wales to engage with their families, can reduce reoffending and assist in addressing the intergenerational transmission of crime (a landmark study found that 63% of prisoners' sons went on to offend themselves) as part of the Government's urgently-needed reform agenda. The Ministry of Justice's own research shows that, for a prisoner who receives visits from a partner or family member, the odds of reoffending are 39% lower than for prisoners who had not received such visits. Supportive relationships with family members and significant others give meaning and all important motivation to other strands of rehabilitation and resettlement activity ... Rather than being unduly prescriptive, I aim to provide a framework of principles illustrated with good practice, so empowered governors can make the most of this typically underutilised resource and ensure families are treated with the decency they deserve."--Executive Summary.

Network Patient Health Survey - Aboriginal people's health report, 2015

Justice Health & Forensic Mental Health Network (N.S.W.)
Malabar, NSW : Justice Health & Forensic Mental Health Network, 2017.
The Network Patient Health Survey - previously the Inmate Health Survey - provides a snapshot of characteristics and health of the adult prison population in New South Wales every 5 years. This report presents findings from the 2015 survey for the subset who identify as Indigenous people, with comparisons by gender and with non-Indigenous people. This survey, previously called the the Inmate Health Survey, is conducted every 5 years. Of the 1,132 prisoners who took part, 499 identified as Aboriginal. Participants were asked about socioeconomic status and employment, education, own parents in prison, childhood care experiences, accommodation and living situation, children, ongoing contact with family, current offending, previous and juvenile offending, health, vaccination, medical conditions, injuries, diet and nutrition, mental health, suicide and self harm, alcohol and drug use, and sexual health. Indigenous participants were also asked about identification with country, perception of Aboriginality, and strength of identification and knowledge. The findings indicate that Aboriginal people in prison in New South Wales have poorer health than other inmates and come from more socially disadvantaged backgrounds.

2015 Young People in Custody Health Survey: full report

Justice Health & Forensic Mental Health Network (N.S.W.), Juvenile Justice (N.S.W.)
Malabar, NSW : Justice Health & Forensic Mental Health Network, 2017.
This report provides a snapshot of characteristics and health of young people in custodial facilities in New South Wales in 2015, as part of a broader survey of the prison population eligible for health care services. 227 young people aged 14-21 years old took part, though note that the majority of young people under juvenile justice supervision are aged 10-17 years old. Participants were asked about education and employment, own parents in prison, childhood care experiences, accommodation and living situation, children, ongoing contact with family and social support, bullying and violence, offending and custodial history, antisocial behaviour, callous and unemotional traits, health, vaccination, medical conditions, disability, injuries, experiences of trauma, diet and nutrition, mental health, suicide and self harm, alcohol and drug use, sexual health, and speech and language skills. Findings are presented in total, by gender, and by Indigenous status.

2015 Network Patient Health Survey report

Justice Health & Forensic Mental Health Network (N.S.W.)
Malabar, NSW : Justice Health & Forensic Mental Health Network, 2017.
This report provides a snapshot of characteristics and health of the adult prison population in New South Wales in 2015. This survey, previously called the Inmate Health Survey, is conducted every 5 years. 1,131 prisoners took part, answering questions about socioeconomic status and employment, education, own parents in prison, childhood care experiences, accommodation and living situation, children, ongoing contact with family, current offending, previous and juvenile offending, health, vaccination, medical conditions, injuries, access to healthcare, diet and nutrition, mental health, suicide and self harm, alcohol and drug use, and sexual health. The key findings and policy implications are also discussed. Results are presented separately for men and women, and a separate report will examine differences between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal participants.

Slipping through the cracks : examining the realities of a child-friendly prison system.

Pridmore W, Levy M and McArthur M
Children and Youth Services Review v. 83 Dec 2017: 226-231
In 2013, the ACT Health Directorate examined the scope and impact of parental incarceration on children in the Australian Capital Territory and made recommendations for reform. Four years on, this article investigates whether the recommendations have been implemented, drawing on interviews with seven key stakeholders.

The impact of parental incarceration on children's care : identifying good practice principles from the perspective of imprisoned primary carer parents.

Trotter C, Flynn C and Baidawi S
Child and Family Social Work v. 22 no. 2 May 2017: 952-962
One key impact of parental incarceration is its disruption to the care and legal custody of children. This article investigates this further, based on interviews with 151 primary carer prisoners in two Australian states. Issues include: care planning for children upon parental arrest, sentencing, or imprisonment; stability of care arrangements; and parents' involvement and satisfaction with care planning and decision-making.

Children of prisoners - children's decision making about contact.

Saunders V
Child and Family Social Work v. 22 Suppl 2 Feb 2017: 63-72
This article explores children's contact with their incarcerated parents, drawing on a broader study on the children of prisoners in the Australian Capital Territory. Sixteen children and young people aged 8-18 years old were interviewed about their experiences of having a parent in prison, the quality of their relationship with their parent, decision making about maintaining contact, and the benefits and challenges of contact. Contact could be distinguished into three types: regular contact including visits, telephone calls and letters; more infrequent contact including intermittent visits and telephone calls; and no direct contact where children received information about their parent from other sources.

Quantifying maternal incarceration : a whole-population linked data study of Western Australian children born 1985-2011.

Dowell C, Preen D and Segal L
Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health v. 41 no. 3 Jun 2017: 269-274
This article calculates how many children are affected by maternal incarceration in Western Australia. Drawing on linked administrative data, it describes prevalence, proportion of children ever affected in childhood and affected annually, and rates for Indigenous and non-Indigenous children.

Sentencing parents : the consideration of dependent children.

Walsh T and Douglas H
Adelaide Law Review v. 37 no. 1 2016: 135-161
As part of their wide-ranging discretion in sentencing, magistrates and judges can consider hardship to offenders' families and dependants as a mitigating factor. However, courts have held that the circumstances will have to be exceptional for hardship to children to influence sentencing. This article aims to better understand judicial approaches to hardship, exceptional circumstances and the 'mercy' discretion when sentencing parents who have dependent children. It reviews 85 sentencing appeal cases from all Australian jurisdictions where hardship to the defendant's dependent children as a result of the sentence was considered, focusing on the the use of the mercy discretion and the kinds of circumstances that have been found to be 'exceptional'. It argues that the human rights of children and their best interests should always be a significant consideration when sentencing an offender who is the parent of dependent children, especially where the offender is the sole or primary carer.

Prisoner's kids: the invisible victims of crime : an evidence-based report on the importance of a holistic approach to crime

Nova Smart Solutions, Second Chances SA (Organization)
Adelaide, SA : Nova Smart Solutions, 2016.
This report highlights the work of Second Chances SA - the only agency in South Australia working to address the intergenerational cycle of imprisonment and reduce the probability of the children of prisoners going to prison themselves.

Making connections: providing family and community support to young people in custody

Paget J
Sydney, NSW : Inspector of Custodial Services, Dept. of Justice, 2015.
It is common for young people in the juvenile justice system in New South Wales to be housed outside of their home region, due to the policy to place young people at centres that cater for specific gender, behavioural or security needs. However, the challenge for the Department of Justice is then to sustain the young people's family and community links. Options include facilitating phone calls, encouraging visits from family, and - in contrast to some other jurisdictions - permitting a detained young mother to have her child with her in custody. This report evaluates how well the Department of Justice promotes and facilitates contact between young people and their families and communities. It is based on an inspection of two sites: the Juniperina Juvenile Justice Centre for females and the Reiby Juvenile Justice Centre for boys aged 10-16 and boys with behavioural issues. The report presents the findings and makes recommendations for improvement.

Literature review of prison-based mothers and children programs: final report

Shlonsky A, Rose D, Harris J, Albers B, Mildon R, Wilson S, Norvell J and Kissinger L
Melbourne, Vic. : Corrections Victoria, Dept. of Justice and Regulation, 2016
This scoping review of the literature was commissioned to better inform the development of prison-based programs that allow mothers to continue raising their young children while in custody in Victoria. Currently, Corrections Victoria operates a full-time residential Mothers and Children Program for infants and pre-school children which aims to lessen the impact of maternal imprisonment on dependent children. The review examines the Australian and international evidence on the impact of such programs on children's wellbeing, mothers' parenting skills and wellbeing, and maternal recidivism. This report discusses the findings and presents recommendations.

Characteristics of children at greater risk of poor outcomes as adults

Ball C, Crichton S, Templeton R, Tumen S, Otlowski M and MacCormick C
Wellington : New Zealand Treasury, 2016.
This paper uses integrated administrative data from New Zealand to identify and describe the characteristics of children who are at higher risk of poor long-term outcomes, including low school attainment, long-term benefit receipt, and contact with the justice system. An earlier study by the authors found that a small number of characteristics in this data set were correlated with poorer outcomes as young adults, and a second study was undertaken to identify youth aged 15-24 who were at greater risk of experiencing poorer long-term outcomes when aged 25-34. This paper provides new analyses of the data for children aged 0-5 and 6-14 years old, with two or more of the following risk factors: substantiated history of abuse or neglect, the majority of their lifetime supported by benefits, a parent who has received a community or custodial sentence, or having a mother who has no formal qualifications. The study found that the number and type of indicators present were also correlated with a range of other characteristics, including having an unmarried mother at birth, injury-related hospitalization, frequent change of address, and less participation in early childhood education.

Responding to children of prisoners : the views of education professionals in Victoria.

McCrickard R and Flynn C
Children Australia v. 41 no. 1 Mar 2016: 39-48
This paper reports on one aspect of data gathered in an Australian Research Council funded project which sought to uncover how children are responded to when their parents are arrested and imprisoned. This paper presents initial specific insights into how Victorian schools understand and respond to these children. Due to the limited research previously conducted in this area of study, a flexible and exploratory approach was implemented. Data were obtained from eight Victorian education staff members, from a variety of professional domains, and were analysed using thematic analysis. Results indicate that a school's ability to respond appropriately to this group of students is shaped by the general and specific knowledge of parental imprisonment held by schools. Access to such knowledge is limited, however, by both the stigmatised nature of the problem and the current, fragmented, service system. More optimistically, it seems that when schools have greater awareness, positive responses can be implemented. Implications for this are discussed, with a particular focus on the need for clear channels of communication and collaborative work.
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