With the prison population now at an all time-high, new research published last Friday (13 October 2023) shows how prisoners’ families and loved-ones are facing their own hidden sentence of financial hardship and emotional strain. Survey results published by the Prison Advice and Care Trust (Pact) show that many families, already on low incomes and affected by the rising cost of living, are being hit by additional costs and are struggling to cover the basics for themselves and their children. They also find that families suffer from a widespread social stigma associated with imprisonment and that their mental and physical health suffer as a result.
‘Serving a Hidden Sentence’ finds that prisoners’ families are often hit by a ‘double whammy’ of costs – the loss of a partner’s income, coupled with the extra costs associated with staying in touch with and supporting their loved-one through a sentence
Pact promoted the survey on its social media channels from 28 June to 2 August 2023 with 164 replying and 110 people completing all the questions. In addition, Pact held two focus groups in June and July 2023 with family members of people currently in prison. In total 15 people took part in these sessions.
The financial impact
Family members say they are often affected by the loss of a partner’s income, coupled with the extra costs associated with staying in touch with and supporting their loved-one.
- 38% said that they spent a quarter or more of their monthly income supporting a loved-one in prison.
71% said that they spent two days a week or more supporting their loved-one.
- More than half said that they are finding it difficult or very difficult to pay for some of the basics, including being able to afford food (49%), heating (50%) and clothes /shoes (68%).
- Many said that it was difficult or very difficult to do a range of other things that other families would do, including social activities, such as going out (72%) and being able to afford transport (61%).
- 34% were unaware of the Help with Prison Visits scheme set up to support people on low incomes with prison visits and 36% had heard of it but hadn’t applied.
- 56% said that money had affected their ability to stay in touch with their loved-one.
The emotional impact and social stigma
Family members also reported that their health suffers as they struggle to come to terms with the new reality. The stigma associated with imprisonment can often result in their leading a ‘double life’ as they seek to hide or avoid talking about what has happened to their loved-one.
- 83% said that their mental health was a lot worse or a little worse.
- 71% said that their physical health was a lot worse or a little worse.
- 70% said that they had lost relationships with friends and family members because of imprisonment.
- Only 29% say that they are always open about their loved-one’s time in prison and46% say that they always or often avoid mentioning where their loved-ones are.
In launching the report, Andy Keen-Downs, CEO of Pact said:
“This research lays bare the devastating impact that the imprisonment of a loved-one has on hundreds of thousands of families and children across England & Wales. Extra costs and a loss of household income are heaping extra pressure on people already affected by the cost-of-living crisis. But the impact stretches well beyond financial problems, as family members struggle with the social stigma associated with imprisonment and their physical and mental health deteriorate.
“Maintaining family ties plays a crucial role in reducing reoffending. If we are serious about cutting crime and delivering safer communities, we must support prisoners to stay in touch with family. By working together, the prison service and a range of partners have made huge progress in recent years, but this research shows that there is still much that could be done.”
Thanks to Andy Aitchison for kind permission to use the images in this post. You can see Andy’s work here