When a loved one receives a prison sentence it can have a devastating affect on the family. This is particularly true for families who experience this for the first time. Individuals work through this experience in different ways: visiting the prisoner and trying to maintain relationships from a distance and over the counter of the visiting room. In most cases they feel they must support the person in prison, through these visits and supplying financial support for extras. And making sure that the children of the prisoners keep contact with their parent in prison.

The Irish Prison Chaplain’s Report 2006/07 states: “For every individual incarcerated, there is a circle of people directly affected by their imprisonment. Children grow up with one person absent from their lives. Mothers are often left to rear these children with constant financial struggles.”

Children in particular suffer greatly when a parent goes to prison. They may feel unable to talk about it with their friends because of the stigma attached. They may feel unable to talk to other members of their family about it because they do not want to upset anyone.

In effect, prisoners’ families are also serving a sentence. Most of the research on imprisoned fathers indicates that families are rehabilitative assets in the prevention of re-offending. Fathers who assume parenting roles after returning home from prison are less likely to return to prison. However, positive outcomes depend on managing relationships while in prison, something which is fraught with difficulties because of financial struggles, distance and visiting arrangements in many prisons.

The role and policies of most closed prisons regimes are naturally dominated by security issues. However, these issues do not often facilitate positive parent-child relationships, or adult relationships. Many people who are imprisoned use their sentence to work on issues that may help them live better lives on release and they are supported by many prison based agencies to do this. They attend addiction or psychological counselling, take part in education programmes or training workshops. All of this prepares them well for re-integration into their own family and community. However, family members outside often resent the apparently “easy” life being lived by the prisoner, where three meals a day are provided, there are no bills to pay, no difficulties with the children, no homework to be done, schools to be organised……..

While there is a great sense of relief when the prisoner is released, there is often an underlying fear of what the future may hold for their relationships and the family unit in general.

How will they manage the changes that both partners have experienced in the time they spent apart? How will the growing children react when the once absent parent starts to resume a role in parenting again?

In the following pages, people who have experienced the joys and difficulties of the homecoming share their experiences. Their accounts are honest, painful, happy and thought-provoking.

We hope this booklet raises awareness of the issues that come to light when a loved one returns home, whether it’s after one week, one year or ten years.





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