New research reveals devastating impact of imprisonment on families and children With the prison population now at an all time-high, new research published today, 20 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. Family ties are a major factor in reducing reoffending. The Government’s research shows that prisoners who stay in touch with family and significant others are 39% less likely to reoffend. However, 56% of families said money had affected their ability to stay in touch with a loved-one in prison. The survey finds that: 50% of respondents express concerns about affording what they need to care for their children. 38% of respondents spend a quarter or more of their household income supporting a loved-one in prison. More than half 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%). 71% are spending two days a week or more of their time to support their loved-one. The harms of imprisonment are not just financial. Many respondents said their health had suffered. The social stigma associated with imprisonment can often result in people seeking to hide or avoid talking about what has happened to their loved-one: 83% of respondents said that their mental health was worse or a lot worse; 71% said that their physical health was worse or a lot worse. 70% have lost relationships with friends and family. Only 29% say that they are always open about their loved-one’s time in prison. On 16 October, the Justice Secretary announced a series of welcome measures, including greater use of community sentences and an early release scheme, which should result in a fall in the prison population. However, Government figures published on 13 October show that the prison population is at an all-time high - 88,225 people are in prison – and the prison population has grown by 80% in the last three decades. Significant progress has been made in recent years to support prisoners to stay in touch with their families. However, in response to the findings, Pact is calling on the Government to: Review its Help with Prison Visits scheme which aims to support people on low incomes with the cost of prison visits. One in three respondents were unaware of the scheme. Continue to take steps to ensure that prisoners are held as close as possible to families and significant others. Review prison officer training to ensure that frontline staff understand the importance of keeping people in prison in touch with their families and significant others. 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. “The Government has this week announced welcome new measures that should lead to a reduction in the prison population. However, right now, the number of people behind bars has never been higher and that means record numbers of families and children suffering the consequences. “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.” Read the full report here: servingahiddensentencereport.pdf ENDS Notes: 1. The survey was promoted on Pact social media channels from 28 June to 2 August 2023 with 164 respondents. Not all questions were answered by all respondents. 110 people completed all the questions. In addition, two focus groups were held in June and July 2023 with family members of people currently in prison. In total 15 people took part in these sessions. 2. The prison population has never been higher. Government figures published on 13 October show that 88,225 people are in prison in England & Wales.