Dawn Savidge outlines the vast numbers of children affected when parents and carers, and young offenders, get the wrong side of the law
Prison. It is not something that we like to talk about in our comfortable church settings or with our neighbours. People have done wrong and therefore they deserve to get locked up, don’t they? But what happens when that person who made a mistake is close to us. A family member, our own child, or a close friend. How do we manage time away from them and who do we talk to when it seems as though no-one else wants to?
There have been many news reports, undercover stories and books written about the failing criminal justice system. Overcrowded prisons, staff shortages, a rise of untreated mental health issues in both prisoners and staff, drugs, corruption, and violence have made the UK criminal system not an ideal place to reform those who have made mistakes. Many people who are spending time were born into broken circumstance with not many available choices to them. Some people will have just made the wrong choices. Most will regret what they have done.
81,423 people are serving time in our UK prisons (7/10/22)[i]. 512 young people under the age of 18 are serving time in a Young Offenders Institute (07/22)[ii]. Over 200,000 children a year see a parent go to prison. If we were to include the number of extended family members who go to prison, that number would be closer to a quarter of a million. That is more than double the number of children who are affected by divorce. There is a very good chance that we will know of someone who has been affected by the criminal justice system.
So how can you help support both people in prison and those families that have been affected, both victims and perpetrators? Here are a few ideas to help you think.
Prisons Week (9-15th October)[iii] is a national initiative that has been running for the past 50 years. It is a call of prayer to the church, organisations, and individuals. Prayer for change where change is needed. A prayer to end human suffering caused by crime and imprisonment.
2. Become informed
There are some great UK based charities such as PACT[iv], Barnardo’s[v] or even gov.uk[vi], who have a plethora of information to help those to support children affected by prison. Have a read and pray about how you could support those that you know. Just a listening ear may be all that is needed.
3. Be an anchor of support
Children need stability to thrive. When I first became a solo parent, the church became the second parent that my children needed. They would take my children out when I needed a break; send meals when they knew I was struggling; endlessly prayed for us; attend their football games; be the anchor of support that an affected family needs.
4. Hear what God has to say
Some of the greatest Biblical characters did terrible things to other people, but God still used them. Just look at Moses who committed murder and then rescued God’s people from Egypt. And of course Jesus made it so clear that we should have compassion for those in prisons. Matthew 25:35-40. ‘[When] I was in prison, and you visited me’.