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Prisoners’ children key to stopping cycle of crime

Media release: 24 January 2008

Prisoners’ children key to stopping cycle of crime

Children of prisoners are seven times more likely to commit a crime, says PILLARS, a community-based organisation that supports prisoners’ children.

With New Zealand prisons struggling to cope with increasing numbers, PILLARS aims to break the cycle of crime by providing mentoring and other support services to these children.

While PILLARS supports screening of children for intervention (NZ Herald, Thursday 24 January) to some degree, research has identified that children of prisoners are at far higher risk of filling New Zealand’s prisons in the future.

“When a parent is sent to prison, it's often the children who suffer the real punishment,” says Verna McFelin, PILLARS chief executive.

“If every prisoner’s child in New Zealand was matched with a mentor we could cut the crime rate by 50 per cent in 10 years.”

Many of the children PILLARS works with are isolated and hide the fact that their parent is imprisoned. Prisoners' children often show emotional, social and behavioural problems, which can lead to criminal behaviour, have health problems and perform poorly at school, says Verna.

“The stigma attached to having a father in jail is a hard burden for a child to bear and can have a significant impact on their lives. By offering them support in any way we can, they are less likely to be involved in crime and we can make a real change in their lives.”

The children’s homes can also often be disorganised with a lack of routine, and support. Some families have moved away from their homes and lost their connection with the community, says Verna.

“There is a lot of shame and it’s essential that the child’s needs are met so they feel secure and confident and can move on with their lives.”

PILLARS provides volunteer mentors who are matched with a prisoner’s child based on similar interests and complementary personalities. A social worker also works within the family to turn around any issues like parenting, budgeting and housing.

“The problems of these children over their lifetime are likely to incur increased social welfare, justice and health costs, and conversely, reduced income from taxes,” Verna says.

“We need to address this target group because that’s the feeding ground for the majority of future offenders.”

ENDS

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