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Prisoners' children to discuss a Bill of Rights

29 May 2008

Prisoners' children to discuss a Bill of Rights

Youth and children who have had, or currently have, a parent in prison are joining together to discuss a Bill of Rights in Christchurch next Saturday (June 7) to tell their stories.

"We are concerned that children of prisoners are unheard and invisible during the arrest, court, imprisonment and reintegration processes," says Verna McFelin, a leading advocate for children of prisoners and chief executive of PILLARS, a community-based organisation supporting prisoners' children.

"Through their stories, Government will be lobbied to introduce the Bill of Rights for prisoners' children," she says.

PILLARS will also use the information they gather to identify the needs and issues for children of prisoners and develop a practice manual for professionals working with youth and children of prisoners.

"It is an opportunity for youth and children of prisoners to have a voice and to have their say."

The needs of prisoners' children are quite different from other children so they need a separate Bill of Rights. The San Francisco Partnership for Incarcerated Parents (SFPIP) is also lobbying for a Bill of Rights for prisoners' children that entitles them to not be judged, blamed or labelled and to have a lifelong relationship with their parent.

"Having a parent in prison can bring a massive life change to these children - they are often isolated and we need to make sure they have been involved in any decisions made about them and to be well cared for while their parent is incarcerated," says Verna.

Prisoners' children have a daunting range of needs, says Verna, and these are not often addressed when their parent is imprisoned.

"They need contact with the parents, to have that relationship recognised and valued, rather than carrying the stigma of their parent's actions.

"By acknowledging that these children exist and have different needs, we can make a change that could prevent the cycle of crime - prisoners' children are seven more times likely to offend than other children without intervention."


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