MOTHERS of children aged as young as three months are being jailed in Queensland for failing to pay fines.
This is revealed in a report released by the Catholic Prison Ministry and launched by Queensland Families, Youth and Community Care Minister, Anna Bligh, and the state’s Children’s Commissioner, Robyn Sullivan, at Parliament House on June 19.
The report, “Parents in Prison and Their Families: Everyone’s Business and No one’s Concern”, was compiled by Dr Karen Healy, a lecturer in social work and social policy at the University of Sydney, in consultation with Denise Foley and Karyn Walsh of the Catholic Prison Ministry in Brisbane.
Their report, which follows research at three prisons in south-east Queensland during 1997 and 1998, claims the parenting status of prisoners is being largely overlooked in a system in which 37 per cent of prisoners in Queensland jails in the early months of 1998-1999 were imprisoned for fine default offences.
It said parents of young children had complained to researchers that their children were suffering because their mothers or fathers were being jailed without having sufficient time to make arrangements for their welfare.
They also complained that access to their children was inadequate while they were in jail.
Dr Healy said in the report that the prison system was not recognising the importance of relationships between jailed parents and their families.
It did not recognise that positive family ties played a vital role in re-integrating prisoners into meaningful social lives after their release.
“The parenting status of prisoners is largely overlooked at every stage of the imprisonment process from arrest through incarceration and release,” she said.
“While the maintenance of family ties is necessary for the partners and children of prisoners, parents who are prisoners often lack the basic rights parents take for granted, particularly the right to see their children.”
Dr Healy called for better facilities at jails for the children of prisoners and for a broader range of sentencing and diversionary options to magistrates to avert the personal and social costs of imprisonment.
“This is particularly the case with fine defaulters, who make up an average of one quarter of the prisoners in Queensland jails,” she said.