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Children Living in Prison with a Parent

Some children live in prison because that is where their mother, or occasionally their father, lives. Without parental care and protection outside the prison, the children join their parent inside. Countries have legislation or guidelines that provide for this, and those usually indicate a maximum age for the child. This can range from a few months to a number of years.

The Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO) has published several excellent reports on the extent and consequences of children growing up in prison. Research has suggested that it is beneficial for young children (pre-school) to live with their mother because it avoids the negative consequences of being separated. However, it also subjects them to the prison environment.

In some prisons special provision is made for mothers with children. This may include a creche/nursery for young children, and in one instance a school, inside the prison. However, other countries make no such provision, and some do not even provide additional food to the mother, which means her food must be divided between her and her children.

Marlene Alejos, in her excellent report Babies and Small Children Residing in Prison, notes that a child who is with her mother in prison is necessarily separated from her father and other members of her family. Furthermore, her life inside the prison leaves her vulnerable to disease, malnutrition and possible abuse by other prisoners or the guards. While the decision ought to be made on the basis of the best intersts of the child, often it is forced upon the mother and child because of circumstances outside their control.


Children residing in prison with their parents: An example of institutional invisibility. Tarja Poso, et. al., (2010) The Prison Journal. 90(4): 516-533.
This article presents the results of a study on the position of a child in prison, residing with their parent, providing answers to the question whether residence in a prison can be in the child’s best interest.
Mujeres Hijos y Cárceles. Dr. Silvana Paz. [ES]
En el marco de lo enunciado detallo la situación actual en la Unidad Carcelaria destinada al alojamiento de mujeres donde las personas penadas y las procesadas viven con sus hijos menores de cuatro años en la Unidad 33 y también en la Unidad 8, destinada al alojamiento sin niños, aunque conviven allí dos una niña y un niño junto a sus madres. De lo dicho surge que la practica diaria no se adececua a los estándares internacionales , ni a la Convención de los derechos del niño respecto a los niños alojados con sus madres en unidades carcelarias, los cuales se ven privados de la libertad en un ámbito de violencia. (extrato)
The Rights of the Child in the Inter-America Human Rights System: second edition (OAS) 2008 [Sp] [En]
This treaty includes a clause on the rights of the child and various provisions that specifically recognize their rights. (excerpt)
Babies and Small Children Residing in Prisons (Quaker United Nations Office) 2005 [En]
This paper focuses mainly on the situation of babies and small children accompanying their mothers in prisons, i.e. children that reside in prisons either for extended (more than one week) or short periods (such as days, weekends, vacations, etc.) (excerpt)
Babies and Small Children Residing in Prisons, Marlene Alejos, Quaker United Nations Office, March 2005
If able to do so and in the absence of other (or better) options, mothers deprived of liberty very often prefer and choose to keep their babies and small children with them while in custody. If possible, some mothers may also choose to have their small children spend their weekends in prison with them. It is an accepted but frequently controversial practice in many countries. The opinion whether this is in the best interests of the child varies, resulting in different approaches and policies being undertaken in different countries. But babies and small children residing in prisons frequently are invisible to the legal and prison systems. Small children share imprisonment with their mothers and often become victims of the frequently deficient, overcrowded and harsh prison systems. (from report)
Impact of Parental Imprisonment on Children, Oliver Robertson, Quaker United Nations Office, April 2007
There is considerable debate, and no firm consensus, about whether children should stay in prison with their parents and if so the age at which they should have to leave. Clearly the conditions in prison and what alternative care arrangements are available are significant considerations. Where there is agreement is that while children remain in prison with their parents, their lives should be as similar as possible to how it would be on the outside and they should not be subject to the restrictions on their freedom that other residents of the prison are. (from report)
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