Thursday, March 13, 2008

Women's Issues: The plight of women in jail and its impact on children

With prison populations growing in many European countries, the specific plight of women in jail will be debated by MEPs on Wednesday. According to a report drafted by Greek MEP Marie Panayotopoulos-Cassiotou (EPP-ED), placing women behind bars can have a serious impact on children - especially if the mother is the sole carer. The report wants the laws of European Union states to take into account the rights of children when mothers are jailed as well as rehabilitation for offenders.

At present women account for just 5% of the prison population of the European Union although this figure is rising. For Mrs Panayotopoulos-Cassiotou, her own initiative report sees the condition of women as a matter of "respect for human dignity and of fundamental human rights".
She believes that "measures do not have to be limited to the only questions of health and of hygiene but have to cover psychological support necessary to face an often painful past".

Disruption of family life

One of the main issues the report raises is the fact that a women's imprisonment can lead to a disruption of family life. It can also have a profound impact on children if their mother is the sole carer.

The report says that if imprisoning women is likely to seriously disrupt family life then greater use of "alternative penalties to imprisonment, such as community-based sentences" should be considered. This should be especially so "if the sentence imposed is short and the risk to public safety low".

The challenge the report sees for legal systems is to create an environment that balances both the needs of security and of good family contact. For example it advocates flexible visiting conditions, visiting rooms allowing some freedom of movement and family privacy and a friendly environment for children.

The report also calls for judicial systems to guarantee the rights of children and for EU members and penal institutions to set up separate mother-and-child units.

When a prisoner leaves jail

At present prisons have to fulfil two essential and complementary missions:

* Protect the public from dangerous people.
* Reintegrate convicted persons into society upon release.
* When leaving prison, most prisoners have to face several problems such as securing housing, a job, healing relationships and providing for children or other dependent family members.

The report stresses the need for women prisoners to have access "to employment, voluntary work and varied vocational training and civic education measures designed to facilitate their reintegration once the sentence has been served".

The report is calling for the Commission and Council to adopt a framework decision (Framework decisions are used to approximate (align) the laws and regulations of the Member States) on minimum standards for prisoners' rights based on Article 6 of the EU Treaty.

The debate is scheduled for Wednesday evening with voting the following day.

Source: European Parliament