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Bill of Rights needed for children of prisoners

Media release: 4 February 2008

Bill of Rights needed for children of prisoners

A separate Bill of Rights is needed for prisoners’children, according to PILLARS, a community-based organisation which supports the children of prisoners.

New Zealand has joined lobbying by other countries to introduce a Bill of Rights for children of incarcerated prisoners.

“The needs of prisoners’ children are quite different and we need to be aware that their rights could be in conflict with what some people, like the Sensible Sentencing Trust, and what the authorities believe is appropriate,” says Verna McFelin, a leading advocate for children of prisoners and chief executive of PILLARS.

The San Francisco Partnership for Incarcerated Parents (SFPIP) is also lobbying for a separate Bill of Rights that entitles these children 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.

“There is currently no requirement that institutions dealing with offenders inquire about the children’s existence or concern themselves with the children’s care.”

Prisoners’ children have a daunting range of needs, says Verna, and there 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 stigmas of their parent’s actions.”

On behalf of these children, PILLARS is lobbying the New Zealand Government to introduce a separate Bill of Rights for children of inmates.

“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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