Children suffer when mothers are gaoled

Mothers are being needlessly separated from their children because of imprisonment practices, it has been claimed. The Howard League for Penal Reform has suggested many of the women locked up last year were convicted of offences that were non-violent - meaning they could have served out their punishment in the community rather than behind bars.

According to the organisation's Voice of a Child report, 17,240 youngsters under the age of 18 were separated from their mums last year because of imprisonment.

Frances Cook, chief executive of the group - which was established in 1866 and is named after one of the first prison reformers John Howard - said such action can have long-term psychological, emotional and social effects for parents and their offspring.

Ms Cook noted going to see a mother in prison can be very distressing for a child, adding: "Evening and weekend visits remain rare and the situation is likely to get worse as budget cuts mean that family days in prisons are being scrapped."

Eva Lloyd, Reader in Early Childhood at the University of East London, commented: "A mother's imprisonment may have similar emotional consequences for children as other forms of maternal separation and loss. But these are likely to be compounded by the effects of increased poverty, potential homelessness and other disruptions to children's lives following their mother's incarceration.

"Compared to male offenders, women continue to receive proportionally more custodial and heavier sentences than men, keeping in touch with their children tends to be harder and their children may fare worse, at great cost to them and to society."