A CONFERENCE at the University of Huddersfield drew delegates from around the world and its discussions and findings will have a global influence on the development of compassionate policies towards children with parents who are imprisoned.

A highlight of the four-day event was a visit to a women’s jail with a pioneering facility that allows overnight stays for children of mothers who are serving sentences.  Some of the female prisoners took part in a discussion session with delegates.

The conference also featured moving and inspiring contributions from young people who have had to cope with the absence of an incarcerated parent.

“That was a very enlightening session,” said conference organiser Ben Raikes.  “We heard stories of children having to cope in the most awful circumstances and the young people taking part supported each other very well.”

Mr Raikes is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Social Work at the University of Huddersfield, with a research speciality in imprisoned mothers and how they maintain contact with their children.  He is a co-founder and board member of the International Coalition for Children with Imprisoned Parents (INCIPP) and at its inaugural conference in New Zealand in 2017 he suggested Huddersfield as the venue for the 2019 event.

Parents in prison

Titled When a parent is incarcerated: International perspectives on a child’s journey, the conference attracted more than 100 delegates – including academics and prison service professionals – from countries that included the USA, Argentina, New Zealand, Australia, South Korea, Uganda, Italy, Spain and Ireland, as well as the UK.

There were 20 symposiums and workshops plus more than 30 papers.  Topics from around the world included children as the unseen victims of capital punishment; the role of grandparents in caring for children of imprisoned  parents; the experiences of the children of traveller and Roma prisoners in Europe; how prison visits can preserve and strengthen the relationship between child and parent; and – from the University of Huddersfield’s Ben Raikes and Mark McConnell – the impact of indeterminate sentences, when the absence of a release date has the effect of crushing the hopes of children.

There were eight keynote speakers, from the UK, the USA, New Zealand and the Netherlands.  They included Anye Young, from Washington DC, who – with a father in prison – is author of the recently published Teen Guide to Living with Incarcerated Parents: A Self Help Book for Coping During an Age of Mass Incarceration.  Also among the speakers was Dr Samantha Callen, who co-authored the recently published report by Lord Farmer that advised the Government on how family ties for men and women in prison can be strengthened – links to Lord Farmer’s Reports in August 2017 and June 2019.

The conference also heard from young people – with parents in jail – who are members of support groups in England and the Isle of Man.

“They spent more than an hour in a closed session deciding what they were going to say and about two hours talking to delegates about their experiences.  It was probably the highlight for most people because it was so moving and informative,” said Mr Raikes.

Also attending the conference was the Deputy Director of the Corrections Service in Washington DC.  At the conclusion of the event, she declared that she would institute changes in the training of prison officers.  “She wants them to be more aware of the impact of imprisonment on families,” said Mr Raikes.

Anyé Young's keynote lecture

Anyé Young is the author of a book entitled: 'Teen Guide to Living with Incarcerated Parents: A Self Help Book for Coping During an Age of Mass Incarceration' which is based on her own life experience of coping with a parent in prison.

She had travelled thousands of miles, from her home in Washington DC, USA, to be one of the keynote speakers at an event entitled: 'When a parent is incarcerated; International Perspectives on a Child's Journey'.

In the video, she talks about the difficulties she went through at school, how writing the book has been therapy in itself and the way it has helped her to cope with the emotional trauma of having a father behind bars and how children should not be made to feel guilty for wanting to carry on with their lives.

Askham Grange Prison visit

A prison chaplain who works in women’s prisons in the USA  brought 75 letters written by women prisoners in the USA and these were passed over to staff at Askham Grange Prison, near York, with the aim of triggering correspondence and Transatlantic friendships between women in prison in the UK and USA.

The visit to Askham Grange, with its innovative facilities allowing women prisoners to spend time with children, came on the last day of the conference.  It featured contributions from a group of prisoners who had volunteered to participate.

The Askham Grange session also featured readings from the recently-published book Seen and Heard, edited by the University of Huddersfield’s Ben Raikes and Lucy Baldwin, of De Montfort University in Leicester.

The book is a collection of poems and drawings by parents and children affected by imprisonment in the UK and abroad.

“They address the thoughts, feelings and beliefs of the authors as they express themselves concerning their emotions and experiences,” said Mr Raikes.

“Over a million children and family members are affected by imprisonment in the UK alone and the poems seek to emphasise the sense of loss, deprivation and isolation involved.  They also show resilience and how enforced separation impacts each and every day of the writer’s life.”