There are around 84,000 prisoners in England and Wales and recent estimates suggest that 54% are parents. Imprisonment affects the whole family, where having a father in prison increases the likelihood of antisocial behaviour, delinquency and being involved themselves in the criminal justice system. Young men in prison are a vulnerable group with histories of social exclusions, exposure to violence in childhood, bereavement, abuse, neglect and time spent in local authority care. The lack of exposure to positive parenting and developing fathering identities whilst imprisoned, presents challenges integrating back into their own families and parenting their own children in a positive way. Men, and most notably young men, from Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups are particularly over-represented in the prison population and experience additional disadvantage relating to discrimination and low trust in statutory agencies.
The Race Equality Foundation is at the start of an exciting project in partnership with UCL to find out more about the needs and experiences of young fathers in prison, particularly focusing on Black, Asian and minority ethnic young men aged 18-25. It is funded by the National Institute for Health Research for two years and led by Dr Anita Mehay of UCL. Our aim by the end is to have co-developed and piloted a parenting programme to support young fathers in prison, informed by research that will see us speak directly to young men, their families, prison staff and voluntary and community sector workers.
This project has been a long time in development. The Strengthening Families, Strengthening Communities (SFSC) model has been utilised in a number of prison settings, most recently as a whole family approach engaging 15-18 years olds at Cookham Wood Young Offenders Prison with our Young People’s programme, and their parents who attended SFSC in the community. This project allows us to build on what we have learnt to date and increase our understanding of how to better support imprisoned parents and carers and their families.
Alongside, the experience of our parenting team, this project team includes academics with backgrounds in prison research, a Research Assistant who has been working with young men in prison for a number of years, and a lived experience lead who has helped shape this project and will work with us to make co-design and lived experience central to what we do.
The work is in its early stages. It involves us meeting with as many prisons as we can to find out more about what they are already doing and where the gaps are, gauge their interest in the work and to help us identify the four or five prisons we want to work with over the next couple of years. We are also taking the opportunity to meet other key stakeholders, particularly voluntary and community sector organisations who support prisoners and their families. We hope to include these in a series of participatory workshops we will be holding. To date we have had a really good response from those we have spoken to, and look forward to providing regular updates on how this study progresses.