The families of those who are incarcerated in Scotland are facing a harsh winter as they cope with the financial and emotional burden of supporting their loved ones behind bars. A charity has warned that many families are experiencing extreme poverty due to the costs involved with maintaining contact with a parent or partner in prison.
The hidden costs of imprisonment
According to Families Outside, a charity that supports families affected by imprisonment, the average spend per month to support someone on remand is £300. This is because prisoners cannot earn a prison wage at that point, but still need to buy clothing and toiletries. After they are sentenced, the average spend drops down to £180 a month. But after release, the average cost jumps back up to £300 per month to support the family member until they find employment.
The costs can range from simply ensuring a Wi-Fi bill is paid so that video calls can go ahead to paying for fuel to make in-person visits. Some families also have to pay for legal fees, court fines, or bail bonds. These expenses can have a significant impact on the household budget, especially for single parents or low-income families.
The emotional toll of separation
Besides the financial strain, families of prisoners also face the emotional toll of separation and stigma. Many families feel isolated, ashamed, or judged by their communities because of their loved one’s imprisonment. They also worry about the well-being and safety of their relative in prison, as well as the impact on their children’s development and education.
Some families try to maintain a positive relationship with the imprisoned parent or partner, believing that it is beneficial for the child and the prisoner. However, this can be challenging due to the limited and costly communication options, the long distances to travel, and the strict rules and procedures in prison. Some families also face difficulties in reintegrating the released prisoner into the family and society, as they may have changed or developed new problems during their incarceration.
The need for more support and awareness
Families Outside has called for more support and awareness for the families of prisoners, who are often overlooked or forgotten by the criminal justice system and the society. The charity provides information, advice, and advocacy for families, as well as emotional and practical support through its helpline, regional teams, and peer support groups. The charity also works with schools, social services, and other agencies to improve the outcomes for children and families affected by imprisonment.
The charity has urged the government and the public to recognise the hidden costs and consequences of imprisonment for families, and to adopt more humane and effective alternatives to incarceration, such as community sentences, restorative justice, or diversion schemes. The charity believes that by supporting families, they can reduce the risk of reoffending, improve the well-being of children, and promote social justice.