The first of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals commits to ending poverty in all forms everywhere. If we are to take this seriously it needs to include people in prison and their families, says Eoin Carroll.
When someone is sent to prison there is little attention paid to the unintended punishment inflicted on families. The Prison Chaplain’s report for 2006/2007 summed it up well, ‘for every individual who is incarcerated there is a circle of people directly affected by their imprisonment.’
To achieve justice in this realm, families of prisoners need financial support and the weekly allowance given to prisoners must be increased. These steps will improve the personal living standards of those who are in prison and lighten the financial burden placed on families.
Financial burden of prisoner families
There is a scheme – the One Parent Payment – available to prisoner spouses, but it is insufficient. The payment is means-tested and only applies to those with sentences longer than six months. Restricting the payment and not including all families impacted by imprisonment is unfair and is imposing poverty on individuals that have not committed a crime.
As well as the financial burden on families to manage the household costs from the loss of income, many make weekly payments to a prison account for their spouse. This additional strain on families, many who already live in poverty, is unfair and needs to be addressed.
Poverty in prison
Many people in prison are unable to afford some of the basics of life, such as toiletries and clothes. A considerable number of prisoners are estranged from their families or their family does not have the means to support them in prison.
Gratuities made to prisoners range from €6.65 to €15.40. Stretching back at least as far as the Whitaker Report of 1985 there have been calls to increase this dramatically, but the situation is unchanged. Using the Vincentian Partnership for Justice budgeting tool the very basic minimum to satisfy the fundamental human dignity of a prisoner would be €26.31.
The Inspector of Prisons has recommended a 25-hour working week, consisting of work, training and/or education. As it stands, even the very fortunate prisoner who is engaged in a “privileged” job is still earning just 89 cents per hour. This ought to be profoundly troubling to our consciences on a host of levels.
Contrary to popular opinion, prison is not like a holiday camp. What kind of resort locks you up for most of the day and leaves you so poor that meeting basic needs can seem impossible? Addressing the poverty in prisons is one very achievable aim for the coming year.