Wadebridge children's researcher visits US prisons
Published: 19 Jan 2015
Dr Owen Gill, from Wadebridge, is a researcher with the Barnardo’s children’s charity. He was awarded a Churchill Travel Fellowship to go to the States to look at services for children who have a parent in prison, and has recently returned home to Cornwall from his month-long research trip.
The U.S. imprisons more people per head of population than any other country in the Western world. Consequently at the current time there are more than 2.5 million children who have a parent in prison.
Owen visited Connecticut, New York City, Virginia, Philadelphia, Little Rock Arkansas and Miami talking to families, practitioners, policy makers and researchers. He visited prisons, community projects and research institutes.
Owen says, “Children with a parent in prison are a hidden and very vulnerable group in the UK. There are no official records kept about who they are, and schools often do not know which of their children has a parent in prison.”
Although our numbers are nowhere near those of the States, there are currently 200,000 children a year in the UK experiencing parental imprisonment: a higher figure than the number of children in care. These children can be resilient and for some children a parent going into prison can improve their family life. But all of the research evidence is that these children can often face real difficulties, including emotional problems and stigma or isolation. There is also much evidence that having a parent in prison can affect how children do at school.
In the States, ‘televisiting’ – connecting parents and children through neighborhood-based Skype suites - is a growing phenomenon, allowing children to keep contact with parents in prison many hundreds of miles away.
Owen was also impressed by the ways in which mentors and community volunteers are meeting individual children’s needs, and by the approaches that some prisons take to preparing prisoners for returning to their families.
Talking about the Fellowship, Owen says, “It was a tremendous opportunity to be able to travel in the States and learn about some of the innovative work that is being carried out. I aim to share the findings from my research trip to all those involved in this area of work in the UK.”
Owen will be presenting the findings of his research in a report to the Churchill Memorial Trust and in presentations at meetings and conferences in 2015.
Notes to Editors
The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust has had a long standing interest in the Prison Reform area and is funding 10 Fellowships a year from 2013-2015, working in conjunction with the Prison Reform Trust.They work to create a just, humane and effective penal system by inquiring into the workings of the system; informing prisoners, staff and the wider public; and by influencing Parliament, government and officials towards reform. They will help us to ensure the lessons learnt from the Prison and Penal Reform Fellowships are properly coordinated and disseminated throughout the penal reform system.