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Prisoners’ children key to stopping cycle of crime

Prisoners’ children key to stopping cycle of crime

Preventing children of prisoners committing crimes and ending up in prison is the aim of PILLARS, a community-based organisation that supports children of prisoners.

With New Zealand prisons struggling to cope with increasing numbers, prisoners’ children are seven times more likely to end up in prisons themselves.

“We need to break the cycle of crime by preventing these children from ending up in prison themselves,” says Verna McFelin, PILLARS’ Chief Executive.

PILLARS was established in 1988 and provides mentoring and other support services to prisoners’ children.

“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,” says Verna McFelin.

“When a parent is sent to prison, it's often the children who suffer the real punishment,” she says.

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.

“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.


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