'The Canberra Times' article
by Peter Jean
26 May 2012
The sons and daughters of prisoners will be asked what authorities can do to make the ACT's jail more child-friendly.
Justice Health Services director Michael Levy said community organisation SHINE for Kids had been funded to conduct a project that included interviewing children who had parents in the Alexander Maconochie Centre.
He said possible changes at the AMC might include creating more opportunities for children of prisoners to have longer visits and extending community-style gardens to the area where families visited.
''We estimate that there would be 600-700 children of prisoners just in the ACT. Not all of them are readily identifiable but they exist as a resource to inform,'' Dr Levy said.
The project team would develop recommendations for the government on how the prison and its regime could be better modified to suit children's needs.
Dr Levy said being separated from parents who were imprisoned could be a traumatic experience for children.
''Four per cent of Australian children have had a parent in prison before the child turns 16,'' he said.
''So on average, one in every classroom. But in fact, you wouldn't be surprised it's not one in every classroom, it's concentrated, so there's going to be two and three and four that some teachers have to deal with.
''These can be kids with very challenging behaviours, these are kids who have experienced a lot of trauma, who necessarily have experienced separation - who can comprehend what that process is?''
Dr Levy said a balance needed to be struck between making the AMC child-friendly and ensuring that children did not develop the belief that it was normal for adults to go to jail.
''Regrettably we know from other research the inter-generational pressure is so high and we are certainly not wanting to make the prison an attractive place to aspire to be,'' he said.
Dr Levy said the AMC had already conducted two family days during school holidays where children could spend an entire day visiting their fathers at the centre.
''The entire day of just kicking balls around and playing chess and having a barbecue together … it's truly touching to see that. [Maybe] that could be expanded.''
The AMC was also looking at a limited trial of allowing children to visit once a week to complete homework with their parents.
''That's going to be important in engaging the parent in the schooling process,'' he said.
Female prisoners can apply to have their children live with them in the AMC. The policy applies to children aged between birth and four years. There are currently no children living in the AMC.
Before the opening of the AMC, prisoners housed in Goulburn and Cooma received an average of 1.5 visitors a week, Dr Levy said.
Prisoners in the new centre received an average of three visits a week.
But access for some families could still be difficult because only three bus services operated each day and the distance from town centres to Hume made taxis prohibitively expensive for those on modest incomes.
Read more at The Canberra Times.