Prison visitors' centre

The project developed from doctoral research conducted by Dr Shona Minson at the Centre for Criminology, University of Oxford, which analysed the place of children in maternal sentencing decisions in England and Wales. When a primary carer is imprisoned every aspect of children’s lives is affected and this can weaken their engagement with society and lead to a diminishing of their life chances. Those who take care of them in their parent’s absence experience negative impacts to their health, work life, finances and familial and personal relationships.

Through interviews with Crown Court judiciary and an analysis of Crown Court and Court of Appeal sentencing decisions, the research explored the way in which Crown Court judges interpret their duty to balance the impact of a parent’s sentence on dependent children against other factors in sentencing calculus. One of the conclusions of the research was that judicial and legal education is necessary so that those representing parents of dependent children, and those sentencing parents of dependent children, understand the consequences for children and caregivers when a primary carer is imprisoned, within the context of the legal authorities on this point.  This finding supports the proposals made in the 2015 report ‘Sentencing of mothers: Improving the sentencing process and outcomes for women with dependent children’ (Minson, Nadin, Earle, Prison Reform Trust, 2015),

training bodies, including the Judicial College, the Law Society and the Bar Council, should ensure sufficient emphasis in both induction traning and continuing education on the balancing exercise to be undertaken when sentencing an offender with sole or primary care repsonsibilities. (2015:18)

Research gathered through interviews with those affected was used to create information resources for all criminal justice professionals involved in adult sentencing decisions, to support sentencers’ understanding of the impacts of maternal imprisonment on children. Launching nationwide on 24 January 2018, the resource includes a series of films & briefing papers entitled 'Safeguarding Children when Sentencing Mothers', which are now used across the criminal justice professions including by the Judicial College, Magistrates Association, Law Society, Criminal Bar Association and Probation services. The work has led to the development of new guidance for court probation officers, which states that when a parent of dependent children is being sentenced the Probation Officer must request an adjournment for a Pre-Sentence Report, in order to provide the court with information about the impact of a sentence on any dependent children, and the plans for their care should their parent be imprisoned. In addition a film was made for women facing imprisonment, so that they are also aware of why it is important that the court know about their children, and how the court should use that information.  The film for women facing sentencing is below: 

Read the accompanying briefing paper

Aims and Objectives

This project enabled collaborative work between the Centre of Criminology, the Prison Reform Trust, and legal and justice professionals, to co-design resources to assist those involved in the sentencing of mothers. These films and briefing papers provide information on the impact of maternal imprisonment on children and assist solicitors, barristers, probation officers and judiciary in ensuring that sentencing courts have the necessary information about the impact on dependent children prior to the sentencing of any woman who is the sole or primary carer of dependent children. This will promote more consistent sentencing practice and will uphold the rights of children under Article 2 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989.


  • Shona Minson and R Condry, 'The visibility of children whose mothers are being sentenced for criminal offences in England and Wales' (2015) 32 Law in Context 28
  • Shona Minson, 'Sentencing and Dependents: Motherhood as Mitigation' in J Roberts (ed), Exploring Sentencing Practice in England and Wales (Palgrave Macmillan 2015)
  • Shona Minson, Written submission on the sentencing of parents of dependent children (Scottish Sentencing Council, Edinburgh. 6th March 2017)
    Presentation to the Scottish Sentencing Council 6th March , based on 'Who Cares? Analysing the place of children in maternal sentencing decisions in England and Wales', Minson, S. (2017), DPhil Thesis, University of Oxford
  • Shona Minson, 'Who cares? Analysing the place of children in maternal sentencing decisions in England and Wales ' (2017) University of Oxford
    This thesis has been lodged with the Bodleian Library
    When children face separation from their parents as a consequence of state action in the family courts, their best interests are the paramount consideration of the court and they have legal representation. Children who face separation from their mother as a consequence of sentencing proceedings in the criminal courts are neither represented nor acknowledged. The thesis analyses this differentiated treatment and explores its consequences for children, society and the state. Explanations for the differentiated treatment are tested with reference to existing literature and original empirical research. The impact on children of imprisoned mothers is investigated to determine whether or not they suffer harm. The parameters of the state duty of care towards children are explored, to see if children of defendant mothers fall outside of it, and the way sentencing judges construct and interpret their duty towards mothers and their children within the sentencing process is examined. This thesis establishes that without legal or moral justification, children of maternal defendants are treated without the concern given to children who face separation from their parents in the family courts. Children of defendant mothers suffer as a consequence of the ‘secondary prisonisation’, ‘secondary stigmatisation’ and ‘confounding grief’ which they experience, and the state has failed to uphold their rights under Articles 3, 12 and 20, and is in breach of its duty under Article 2 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989. The guidance and mechanisms for considering their welfare exist but are not engaged with by the sentencing courts, local authorities, legislators or policy makers. This has negative consequences for children, their caregivers and wider society. The thesis concludes with consideration of the implications of these findings for the state and suggests changes to ensure equitable treatment of children of defendant mothers in England and Wales.
  • Shona Minson, 'Direct Harms and Social Consequences: An analysis of the impact of maternal imprisonment on dependent children in England and Wales ' (2018) Criminology and Criminal Justice
    This article draws upon research with children whose mothers were imprisoned in England and Wales, to investigate the impacts of maternal imprisonment on dependent children. The research directly engaged with children, in accordance with Article 12 of the UNCRC 1989, and is set within an examination of the differentiated treatment in the family and criminal courts of England and Wales of children facing state initiated separation from a parent. The article explores children’s ‘confounding grief’ and contends that this grief originates from social processes, experienced as a consequence of maternal imprisonment. ‘Secondary prisonization’ is characterized by changes in home and caregiver and the regulation of the mother and child relationship. ‘Secondary stigmatization’ occurs when children are stigmatized by virtue of their relationship with their mother. These harms to children call into question the state’s fulfilment of its duty to protect children under Article 2 of the UNCRC 1989.