Children of women in prison – a group with double vulnerability in terms of realization of children’s rights!
In 2017-2019 Penal Reform International (PRI) in the South Caucasus provided various types of assistance services in the framework of the EU-supported project “Supporting the Improvement of Service Provision for Women Offenders, Who Have Experienced Violence and Discrimination, and their Vulnerable Children”. The services were provided for minor children of former women prisoners and probationers, as well as to children living with convicted mothers at the women’s special establishment, in order to ensure the well-being and upbringing of children, as well as to promote positive emotional relationships between mothers and children.
The implementation of the abovementioned project was based on such important factors in respect to the rights of this target group, which were identified by PRI in the past through implemented projects and conducted research.
Socially vulnerable children (97 beneficiaries) of mothers in conflict with the law, who have been victims of violence, were mainly provided with psychological assistance by professional psychologists and social workers and, also, with free socio-economic assistance (food, primary and school supplies, toys and clothing, funding of educational courses) and medical services (funding of surgeries, visits to doctors and medical examinations, medicines).
Within the framework of this project, for the first time in women’s special establishment, a Child Development Centre was arranged for children under the age of three, living with their mothers, and the caregiver/psychologist started working with convicted women. The activities of the caregiver/psychologist included psycho-social consultation for prisoner mothers about the specificities of child development, early childhood stimulation activities for children living at the establishment, as well as supporting imprisoned mothers, with children over the age of one, to participate in training courses within the rehabilitation programs.
The kindergarten type infrastructure was created in the specially arranged mother and children unit, the training room (necessary inventory purchased, room equipped with child development toys) walking area and the playground (with children’s attractions) was organised. Also, the kitchen, shared among convicted mothers, was renovated.
Also, the Guidelines for Child Development Centres for children under the age of three – national standards, have been developed based on international documents, guidelines, and best practices of other countries with experience, with the aim to improve the current practice of protecting and supporting children of imprisoned parents, raise awareness of prison personnel and improve their ethical and professional standards.
In the present blog post, I would like to briefly review the important standards offered by international documents in regards to the rights and needs of children of imprisoned parents.
First of all, as the practice of various countries shows, the imprisonment of parents, particularly a mother or a single parent, creates obstacles for children, such as the lack of quality family contact resulted in psychological consequences, the public stigma, financial obstacles, which often reflects on the full development of the child.
In such cases, the importance is given to the legislation and state policy, which envisages the protection and support of the children of imprisoned parents, based on universally recognized standards and principles. On the other hand, the state agencies that are associated with such vulnerable children work in coordination to ensure the rights and needs of children and their imprisoned parents.
In different countries around the world, pregnant women in conflict with the law may also be placed in penitentiary establishments for a certain period of time. In general, women prisoner’s children, who were born in prison, live in penitentiary establishments together with their mothers until the age of three, because the legislation allows for such opportunity.
As a rule, the prison environment hinders children from having a normal childhood life, and satisfying their needs is one of the challenges for the prison administration. In prison there are additional risks, however, it may be the best interest or even the only opportunity for the child to live with the mother in prison and it may also be less harmful than separation.
Children living in prison should not be considered as prisoners, the prison administration is responsible for their health and well-being, including through proper budgeting and human resource planning.
The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules) provides for certain requirements in respect to children living with their imprisoned parents, and the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders (Bangkok Rules) fulfils the Mandela Rules with more detailed guidelines on how to ensure the support for parents and children, including the consideration of emotional state and developmental needs of the children, the decision-making process on issuing permits for the child to stay in or leave the prison and establishing the duration of keeping the child in prison and other important issues.
The decision to keep a child with his/her mother in prison should be based on the best interests of the child. The penitentiary establishment, where the child remains, should ensure the following:
- Internal and external facilities for child care, which will be staffed by professionals;
- Place, where children can stay when they are not under parental care;
- Paediatric medical services and supervision of the child development by specialists.
The importance of the care and protection of imprisoned parents is mentioned in the Council of Europe Recommendation concerning Children with Imprisoned Parents, which reaffirms that children with imprisoned parents are entitled to the same rights as all children.
In all matters, which concern children, children’s rights and best interests should be of primary consideration. All children, regardless of the legal status of their parents, are guaranteed the enjoyment of all rights covered by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, including the right to have their best interests protected, the right to development, the right to have their views respected, and the right to maintain personal relations and direct contact with their parents on a regular basis.
The “Istanbul Convention” obliges States to take all necessary legislative or other measures to identify and protect children who are victims or witnesses of all forms of violence. These measures include age-appropriate psychosocial counselling and rehabilitation and shall give due regard to the best interests of the child.
It is necessary to protect the child’s right to, and need for, an emotional and continuing relationship with their imprisoned parent, who has a duty and right to play their parental role and to promote positive experiences for their children;
It is necessary to protect the child’s emotional and communicative rights and the need for a parent who has the right and duty to fulfil the role of the parent and promote positive experience for children.
It is important to support imprisoned parents in developing their parental competency, ensuring improved accessibility with the opportunities that will enable them to look after their children, cook meals for them, spend time playing with them, both inside the prison and in open-air areas and prepare them for nursery school.
Also, penitentiary services should ensure that children can access open-air areas in the prison, and the outside world with appropriate accompaniment and attend nursery schools.
It is important to promote attachment between a child and their parent, allowing the child-parent relationship to develop as normally as possible, enabling parents to exercise appropriate parental responsibility for their child and providing maximum opportunities for imprisoned parents to spend time with their children.
With a view to protecting children from the frequently harsh prison environment, preparing them for their parent’s return, and having their parents present at significant events in their lives, home leave for prisoners should be granted and facilitated, where possible. This is especially important during the period before their release, providing more opportunities for them to prepare for resuming fully their parental role and its responsibilities on release.
To ensure child protection and well-being, efforts should be directed towards strengthening mutual respect and tolerance and prevent potentially harmful behaviour between prisoners, their children and families, prison staff or other persons working in or visiting the prison. Good order, safety and security, in particular dynamic security, are the basis for the efforts to maintain a friendly and positive atmosphere in prison.
In order to protect the right of a child to the highest attainable standard of health, appropriate pre-natal and post-natal health care, support and information shall be provided for imprisoned mothers.
Infants may stay in prison with their parent only when it complies with the best interests of the infant concerned and in accordance with national law. Relevant decisions to allow infants to stay with a parent in a prison must be made on a case-by-case basis.
Arrangements and facilities for the care of infants who are in prison with a parent, including living and sleeping accommodation, shall be child-friendly and adapted to the child’s interests.
In order to enhance child-parent relationships, prison administration shall utilise options such as home leave, open prisons, halfway houses, electronic monitoring and community-based programmes and services to the maximum possible extent, to ease transition from prison to liberty, to reduce stigma, to re-establish contact with families at the earliest possible stage and to minimise the impact of a parent’s imprisonment on children.
Decisions regarding early release shall take into account prisoners’ caregiving responsibilities, as well as their specific family reintegration needs.
Prison administration, in co-operation with probation and/or social welfare services, local community groups and civil society organisations, shall design and implement pre- and post-release reintegration programmes which take into account the specific needs of prisoners resuming their parental role in the community.
As for Georgian practice, according to national legislation, a special unit is organised in women’s special establishment for pregnant women and mothers with children. With the motion of a mother, with the permission of the guardianship and custody authority and the consent from the director of the establishment it is possible for the child to live together with the mother under the age of three.
For the purpose of creating improved living and nutrition conditions for pregnant women and nursing mothers, mother and children unit is being arranged, where children under the age of three will be placed based on the motion of the mother, permission of the guardianship and custody authority and the consent from the director of the establishment.
The mother and children unit is separated from other convicts and shall be equipped with appropriate inventory.
The administration of the women’s special establishment is responsible to provide care for the children living with the convicted mothers, to protect their best interests and to create the best conditions envisaged by the legislation of Georgia. The Ministry is responsible for providing nutrition, healthcare services and sanitary-hygienic conditions for children under the age of three.
After the child reaches the age of three and leaves the establishment, the mother is entitled to leave the establishment (during one year after the child leaves the establishment) on the weekends and holidays established by the Georgian legislation and visit the child, following the decision of the Director General of the Special Penitentiary Service, in order to maintain the child-mother attachment.
The procedure for leaving women’s special establishment on weekends and holidays is determined by the order of the Minister.
In regards to general principles of care for children of imprisoned mothers, the national legislation of Georgia is in compliance with international standards. Some issues related to the realization of rights of children of imprisoned mothers require further detailed explanation within relevant regulations (legislative and sub-legislative acts) and, therefore, improvement in practice, such as:
- Rights of the child during the proceedings regarding the parent: pre-trial detention, court decisions and imposition of the sentence;
- Conditions of detention;
- Placement, communication, contact and visits;
- Leaving the prison;
- Good order, safety and security;
- Infants in prison;
- Functions of employees working with children and their imprisoned parents;
- Multi-disciplinary and inter-agency approach;
- Monitoring, research and evaluation for the purpose of elaborating a child-friendly practice and policy;
- Work with media on changing public opinion.
In addition to the above-mentioned, one of the major challenges in the penitentiary system is granting the Child Development Centre an official status and allocating and reflecting appropriate funds for institutionalizing the permanent staff of a caretaker (child psychologist, pedagogue) on the level of legislation as well as sub-legislative acts (Code of Imprisonment, Regulation of Women’s N5 Penitentiary Establishment), elaboration of relevant guidelines for prison staff.
It is of significant importance to train specialists, working directly with children, on the rights of children of imprisoned mothers in the penitentiary system, and to include internationally recognized standards and rules in the training programs/curricula for the prison staff.
For Georgian version, please follow the link: https://www.penalreform.org/blog/%e1%83%9e%e1%83%90%e1%83%a2%e1%83%98%e1%83%9b%e1%83%90%e1%83%a0%e1%83%98-%e1%83%93%e1%83%94%e1%83%93%e1%83%94%e1%83%91%e1%83%98%e1%83%a1-%e1%83%a8%e1%83%95%e1%83%98%e1%83%9a%e1%83%94%e1%83%91%e1%83%98/
 Recommendation CM/Rec(2018)5 of the Committee of Ministers to Member States Concerning Children with Imprisoned Parents was adopted on 4 April 2018 at the 1312th meeting of Deputy Ministers.
 Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, Article 26.
 Code of Imprisonment, Article 72.
 The nutrition and the sanitary-hygienic rules and conditions for children under the age of three living in the mother and children unit is regulated by the joint order by the Minister of Health, Labour and Social Affairs and the Minister of Corrections of Georgia.
 Order N113 of August 27, 2015 on the approval of the Regulation of the Penitentiary Establishment No. 5 of the Ministry of Corrections of Georgia, Article 13.