The bishop for prisons has said more must be done to ensure that female criminals are not separated from their children through imprisonment.
In his first public lecture, Bishop Richard Moth said: “What more can be done to ensure that a mother can remain with her children and pay her debt to society without the need for a custodial sentence?”
Speaking at the Harold Hood lecture on Wednesday at St Luke’s Community Centre in east London, Bishop Moth asked: “There will be those who will argue that the thought of the effect of crime on family should be a deterrent to crime. This may well be true, but when a crime is committed, is it right that more innocent people – the most vulnerable in our society – should suffer as a result?
“What more can be done to ensure, at least in a far greater number of cases, that a mother can remain with her children and pay her debt to society without the need for a custodial sentence? Where prison is the right course of action, the accessibility of the prison to family should be taken into account in every case, so that children can keep contact with their mother.”
He added: “Family members, such as grandparents, are often the carers for children and the imprisonment of a mother puts further strain on already stretched social services.”
Bishop Moth said children become victims of crime themselves and “they speak of a system which struggles to meet the needs of families whose mothers are given custodial sentences”.
The bishops said that parishioners should be welcoming to families who have been in such difficult situations. He said: “When a family member is in prison, the family experiences something of a ‘hidden sentence’. Life becomes increasingly stressful. Children are often bullied at school and lives are lived out in fear. Much is needed to support families when a loved one is in prison. There is still much to be done to overcome stigma and to enable families to maintain their dignity and place in the local community.
Parish communities should be places of support, not judgment for families of offenders.
“When a family member returns home, things will have changed and it will not be easy for the mother, father or child to find their place in the family once again. This problem will be exacerbated when work cannot be found.
“Here, too, the community of faith has so much to offer, based on our very clear understanding of family and the value that we give to it. That esteem for family life must be lived out in the way in which we are called to support families at such a vulnerable time.”