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Making prison visits more child-friendly
How can we make prison spaces more child-friendly for children visiting a parent?

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Children's views

Children of Prisoners Europe has just published a new report on how we can make prison visits more child-friendly. The report is based on the views of 48 children across ten countries and highlights critical areas that require attention to make prisons more accommodating for children. 

Structured to highlight key findings and recommendations, the report outlines the changes that children wish to see and the common issues in prisons they want addressed.


Many children have experienced the trauma of having witnessed their parent’s arrest at home, as well as trauma associated with being separated from their parent. This trauma can be exacerbated by harsh, tense or fear-inducing prison environments. Visiting a parent often means children endure invasive security measures; prison staff are often untrained on child-friendly procedures; teenagers may be treated like adults and/or potential offenders.

Visiting regulations Rarely consider the needs of children. Often they may not be allowed to play with or even touch their parent and visiting hours may interfere with their schooling. On top of this, getting to the prison in the first place may be a long and expensive journey. 

The survey

48 children aged between 8 and 15 years old completed an online survey on their experiences of visiting a parent in prison and were given the chance to give their views on how prison visits should be organised.


The children highlighted a number of concerns including:

  • Unfriendly behaviour from prison staff, heavy security checks and the lack of adequate resources for children to enjoy time with their imprisoned parent. Children emphasise that the atmosphere in visiting rooms is often intimidating and stressful which can make the visit emotionally taxing rather than a positive experience.
  • Many children said they felt they were treated as if they’d done something bad during security checks with Britain’s staff often displaying what they experienced as hostile and strict behaviour towards them. These experiences were described as intimidating and distressing, making them apprehensive about future prison visits.
  • Children said they would have liked to have seen their parents wearing their own clothes on visits as this made for a more normal and comforting visiting experience.
  • A majority of children said that they would prefer to be allowed to leave the visiting area before their parent did. They found that leaving first could sometimes help ease the emotional difficulty of saying goodbye, making the transition smoother and less distressing rather than having to see their parent escorted back to their cell.
  • Children said they would also like to be able to join their parents for outside visits during sports are other outdoor activities. Walking outside together or engaging in crafting and sports activities with their parents could make visits seem more normal and help to strengthen the child-parent bond by creating positive memories in a difficult environment.
  • Children were keen to be able to stay in touch with their parents in prison by video or phone calls to maintain their relationship in between face-to-face visits. More regular communication could help with the emotional strain of separation, making children feel that they were still supported and loved by their parents even though they could not be with them as often.

In addition to a set of recommendations addressing these key points, there were also specific practical issues such as:

  • Not using drug dogs during security checks as children were often afraid of the dogs and the anxiety and fear produced could undermine the whole visit.
  • Train prison staff on being more child-friendly and to stop indulging in such common behaviour as threatening children with prison themselves if they did not behave on a visit.
  • Prison staff to explain in age-appropriate language the rules and requirements of visits.

Thanks to Andy Aitchison for kind permission to use the header image in this post. You can see Andy’s work here

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