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Palgrave Macmillan

When the Innocent are Punished

The Children of Imprisoned Parents

ISBN 9781137414281
Publication Date June 2014
Formats Hardcover Ebook (EPUB) Ebook (PDF) 
Publisher Palgrave Macmillan
Series Palgrave Studies in Prisons and Penology

There are millions of children experiencing parental imprisonment worldwide, but up until recently very little attention has been given to this issue and the serious intergenerational effects of imprisonment. This book tells the story of prisoner's children – of their situation, problems and human rights - and how they are treated throughout the justice process from the arrest of a parent to imprisonment and release.

Based on extensive research from across Europe, Scharff Smith argues that it is a paradox that we hail the family as a fundamental unit in our societies, and insist on regarding children as an especially valuable and vulnerable group of citizens, but at the same time break up families on a massive scale as a result of a conscious, planned and generally unquestioned policy of using imprisonment as a key sanction in the repertoire of punishments.

Shedding light on various reform initiatives, this book assists in promoting good practice and improving the experience of children of imprisoned parents.

Peter Scharff Smith is a Senior Researcher at the Danish Institute for Human Rights, Denmark. He has published books and articles in Danish, English and German on prisons, punishment and human rights, including works on prison history, children of imprisoned parents, and the use of solitary confinement in prisons.

1. Scenes from Family Life
2. When the Innocent are Punished
3. Prison and Society – a Historical Perspective
4. Children of Imprisoned Parents in Numbers
5. The Problems and Reactions of Prisoners Children – a Review of Research
6. Children of Imprisoned Parents and their Human Rights
7. The Arrest of Parents – through the Eyes of Children, Police and Social Services; Peter Scharff Smith and Janne Jakobsen
8. Remand Imprisonment - a Stressful Phase of Transition
9. After the Sentence – the Family's Way of Dealing with the Children and the Surroundings
10. Visiting in Prisons – Staff, Children, Conditions and Practice; Peter Scharff Smith and Janne Jakobsen
11. Home Leave and Other Ways of Maintaining Contact
12. When Visits do not Take Place – Parents Who Cut Off or Minimize Contact
13. When Contact is Undesirable and not in the Child's Best Interest
14. When Mum or Dad Returns – Re-entry and Release
15. With Mum or Dad in Prison – Children who Live with their Imprisoned Parent
16. Penal Populism and Children of Imprisoned Parents
17. When the Innocent are Punished – Prison, Society and the Effects of Imprisonment


"This is a compassionate and gripping account of the impact of arrest, imprisonment and release of parents on children, written from a human rights perspective. For the children, 'always the losers', these experiences constitute a major life crisis, leaving deep traces. Criminal justice professionals are often moved by these realities in their work. Peter Scharff Smith's careful and poignant analysis shows how the prison, families and society interact, and how much collateral damage is done along the way, particularly during times of punitive sentiment and legislation. His book represents applied research at its best, changing levels of awareness, proposing reforms, and adding powerfully to the theoretical literature on the modern techniques, technologies and effects of penal power." - Alison Liebling, University of Cambridge, UK
"Peter Scharff Smith has produced a deeply sensitive and powerful look at an extremely important, widespread, but little examined human rights crisis—the consequences of mass incarceration on the children of the imprisoned. Of course, these children are innocent of wrongdoing, but placed at grave risk nonetheless by aggressive policies of incarceration that have been pursued worldwide. Smith's insightful analysis is based on a truly impressive number of diverse and corroborating sources of data that enable him to provide both a compelling portrait of this critical problem and offer a number of practical yet urgent and humane solutions. A magnificent achievement." - Craig Haney, University of California, Santa Cruz, USA
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