Paying the Price: The Cost to Families of Imprisonment and Release

Families Outside has launched research which highlights the role of prison in creating, sustaining, and deepening poverty amongst children and families. The full research report, titled “Paying the Price: The Cost to Families of Imprisonment and Release”, found that the burden of care and costs falls disproportionately to women, and many spend half their income or more in costs relating to their family member’s imprisonment. The costs included things like travel, staying in touch, postage, paying money into personal accounts, and other costs associated with maintaining contact.

When a person is held on remand, this is an especially uncertain, stressful, and costly time for families. Scotland has one of the biggest remand populations in Europe, with nearly 30% of all people held in prison in Scotland on remand, with 57% released after this period. The average cost to families supporting someone in prison on remand was £300 per month. Several spent all of their income to afford this, and most were spending around a half of their income in costs relating to supporting their family member in prison.

A decade of austerity, pandemic, and cost-of-living crises means the context in which families are living and the backdrop for this new study are harsher than ever.

One participant taking part in the research, who supports her partner in prison, reported that she was finding it hard to stay afloat. She said:

“Some weeks I sit with nothing. I have had to rely on foodbanks… I only eat one meal a day. It is for costs. It is for the kids… I have had to get crisis loans, community care grants.” 

People in prison are up to six times less likely to reoffend if they maintain family contact during imprisonment. Meaningful connection between children and families with the person in prison, where appropriate, can support the health and wellbeing of all involved; however, this research has found that this comes at a significant cost to families.

Families Outside is the only charity that works solely on behalf of children and families affected by imprisonment. Over recent months, they have seen a sharp increase from families worried about costs and seeking financial support.

Reflecting on the research, Families Outside’s Chief Executive, Professor Nancy Loucks said:

“Children and families are in effect being punished for acts they did not commit, their only crime being a desire to support a loved one. Even before the cost of living crisis, these families were making significant sacrifices of their own physical and emotional wellbeing just to get by, simply because of their circumstances. We can and must do more to prevent this.”

Read the full report here.

Check out our one pager which highlights key findings from the report.

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