For years, one of This Life Cambodia’s most important programs has been This Life Beyond Bars, through which we provide training, rehabilitation and hope to juvenile prisoners and their families. This has led to us developing very close working relationships within Cambodia’s prisoners, which has in turn led to us realising that there is another little known group whose futures are being damaged in prisons, but through no fault of their own. These are the children, up to the age of 3, who grow up with their incarcerated mothers behind bars.
In the last two years we have been looking more closely into this problem, applying the first phase of our “Four S” methodology – Study. We conducted detailed research and have released our findings in our publicly available research report, Why Children Accompany Women into Prison. This is particularly timely as the Global Study on Children Deprived of their Liberty is soon to be published in full, in the same week that the international community will mark the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. From data gathered from a range of official statistics, the Global Study estimated that the number of children living in prisons with their primary caregivers is 19,000 children per year.
Prison Reform International asked me to travel to Georgia earlier this year to talk to a team of international experts about our research, our experience, and our ideas for how to reduce the harm to new mothers in conflict with the law and their young children. I discussed better ways to provide support within prisons, and to prevent as many mothers as possible from going to prison in the first place. As a result, they asked me to write the following blog on the subject. Please read and get in touch if you have feedback or ideas on how we can start to improve the situation for mothers in conflict with the law, in Cambodia or beyond.