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:
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.