It’s a statement I've heard many times from clients as they process through the many ways in which their crimes have impacted the lives of others. Interestingly, the punishment exacted by the criminal justice system plays a major part in this narrative of how the children are seriously impacted by crime. When discussing how their children have been harmed, my clients will talk about the separation caused by prison and the lack of material resources due to the lack of job losses. These personal stories have been documented by various research studies.  A European study completed in 2012 highlighted the psychological impact of parental incarceration for children throughout that continent and the need to address the needs these children experience. Thanks to organisations such as the Quaker UN Office, the repercussions of incarceration for children and families are well documented. 

In 2012, a study group from Prison Fellowship International conducted a review of 31 research documents from around the world discussion the situation of children with an incarcerated parent. The literature review revealed that regardless of country or continent children with a parent in prison all face the following risks:

  • Risk of deprivation of basic necessities
  • Risk of danger of secondary victimisation and depersonalisation
  • Risk of deterioration of the overall situation of the child
  • Risk of distance from the incarcerated parent
  • Risk of descent into antisocial behaviour

When I look at that list, I think about the young offenders I've worked with who also had a parent in prison. Mostly African-American, these young men couldn't see a different future because they too had become defined by a father’s incarceration. For me, this is the beauty of the restorative process. As they talked about their experiences and motivations, the young men were able to hear the other side of the story and the impact their behaviour had had on the victims. Most importantly, they experienced respect and what it means to show respect. They also had the opportunity to develop hope for the future.

Going back to the statement, “I’m not the only one serving time,” I think about how the general criminal justice response creates more harm as it seeks to punish wrong doing. It’s an individualised view of justice focusing on the offender and how to make him/her pay for the crime. Restorative justice, on the other hand, takes a relational view that says justice must be done and wrong doing addressed in a way that brings healing to those harmed while creating stronger, healthier relationships for all those affected by crime. Restorative processes seek to address needs without causing more harm or expanding the circle of harm. 

When it comes to the children of those who have committed crime, it’s important to remember that an offender doesn't act or live in isolation. As my client said, the children serve time along with the parent. As seen in the research, a child with a parent in prison often experience many negatives because of the justice system’s focus on simple punishment. This is one reason Prison Fellowship International recently launched a new initiative to meet the needs of children of prisoners. It’s also a reason why we support restorative justice initiatives so as to address the needs of all those affected by crime.