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Parental responsibility in prison 

Imprisonment does not automatically restrict or remove a mother’s or father’s parental responsibility. This can only happen following a voluntary agreement or if the other parent takes the incarcerated parent to court. A court can grant a prohibited steps order or a specific issue order. For a more detailed description of parental responsibility and how it can be gained, restricted and lost, the Library paper on Children: parental responsibility – what is it and how is it gained and lost (England and Wales) will help.

If a parent wishes to prevent an incarcerated person with parental responsibility from making certain decisions in regards to their child, the court can issue a prohibited steps order. This an order that “no step which could be taken by a parent in meeting his parental responsibility for a child, and which is of a kind specified in the order, shall be taken by any person without the consent of the court”.  Such an order might, for instance, be issued to prevent a change in the child’s schooling, or prevent contact.  If parents cannot agree on a particular decision, such as the choice of religion for their child, the court can be used to make a final decision. This is called a specific issue order, which is an order “giving directions for the purpose of determining a specific question which has arisen, or which may arise, in connection with any aspect of parental responsibility for a child”.

Prisoners’ contact with their children 

There are statutory minimum prison visit entitlements and standards that prisons must meet for visiting families, including children. Prison rules also require governors to encourage and promote family ties. Lord Farmer conducted a review for the Ministry of Justice on prisoners’ family ties which reported in August 2017.  In the report, The Importance of Strengthening Prisoners’ Family Ties to Prevent Reoffending and Reduce Intergenerational Crime, he identified an unacceptable inconsistency of respect for family ties across the prison estate.

Prison Service Instruction (PSI) PSI 49/2011, Prisoner Communication Services, states that “where a prisoner who is assessed as posing a risk to children wishes contact with a specific child, staff must refer to Safeguarding Children: Child Contact protocols in Chapter 2 of the Public Protection Manual.” This is available on the website:  Public Protection Manual, Chapter 2: Safeguarding children. Section 2 deals with child contact procedures and notes that contact includes that by phone/letter. The manual explains that a risk assessment of the prisoner and a “best interests” assessment for the child must be carried out in order to decide what, if any, form of contact is appropriate. It emphasises that the best interests and welfare of the child are paramount. 

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