Human Rights and the Government’s response to COVID-19: children whose mothers are in prison Contents


1.In September 2019, the Joint Committee on Human Rights published a report on the right to family life of children whose mothers are in prison.1 This found that sending a mother to prison had a serious, detrimental impact on her children. This impact was felt from the moment of sentencing and continued to have long-term effects. Academic research has shown that children who had a parent go to prison were more likely than their peers to have future problems, and that a child with an imprisoned mother was more likely to suffer more negative effects than a child with an imprisoned father.

2.The inquiry made proposals for fundamental reform in four key areas:

3.On 19 March 2020, we announced an inquiry into the implications for human rights of the Government’s Covid-19 response.2 As part of this inquiry we heard evidence on 8 June from children, and grandparents caring for children, of mothers in prison. We are particularly grateful to those who told us how mothers being sent to prison had affected them in such a moving and honest way. We also thank Sarah Burrows of Children Heard and Seen who facilitated the audio recording that enabled us to hear these experiences first-hand. We also heard evidence from the Minister for Prisons and Probation, Lucy Frazer QC MP, Jo Farrar, Chief Executive of HM Prison and Probation Service, and Naomi Mallick, Legal Director, Ministry of Justice. We are grateful to all our witnesses. This report is focused on the situation in England and Wales as justice is a devolved matter in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

4.Children are negatively affected when a parent goes to prison, whether that be their mother or their father, although the effects are significantly greater when it is their mother.3 This report therefore focuses on mothers and other primary carers (who may be fathers or grandparents) who go to prison. As women are more likely to be primary carers,4 the report generally refers to mothers. This should be read as including all primary carers unless otherwise stated.

1 Joint Committee on Human Rights, Twenty-Second Report of Session 2017–19, The right to family life: children whose mothers are in prison, HC 1610 / HL Paper 411

2 “COVID-19 response scrutinised to ensure human rights are upheld”, JCHR press notice, 19 March

4 Prison Reform Trust, Why focus on reducing women’s imprisonment?, February 2017

Published: 3 July 2020