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Part I. Introduction

This report provides information on select international and regional measures (Part II) and the laws of ninety-seven jurisdictions from around the world (Part III) that relate to allowing children to reside in prison with an incarcerated parent.  The report also provides information on the number of children residing in prison with a parent in various countries, where such information was available.  The final section of the report includes a bibliography with additional sources (Part IV).

Over the last decade, efforts have escalated at the international level to create policies specifically geared towards addressing the situation of the young children of incarcerated parents.  Some measures seek to ameliorate the treatment of pregnant women, nursing mothers, and mothers with children; others seek to encourage the provision of better conditions, such as nurseries and kindergartens and specially trained staff, for the children; still others try to promote better hygiene and a better environment in general.  There have also been trends urging the incarceration of mothers only as a last resort and that fathers’ needs to be with their young children be taken into account.  The discussion in Part II below highlights key international measures that address the issues surrounding children residing in prison with an incarcerated parent.  The list of international documents reviewed is not exhaustive, and includes major United Nations and European acts addressing mainly the well-being of children and women in prison.

Most of the countries surveyed in Part III impose specific age limits for a child’s admission into and length of stay in prison.  However, some use different or additional markers (such as a breastfeeding period or an assessment of the best interests of the child) for making such determinations.  In addition, many of the countries surveyed permit children to actually live with the parent in jail, whether or not in special facilities, whereas a few put eligible children in prison child care facilities with the parent having regular access to the child.  Finally, some surveyed countries, in addition to admitting children to prison to live with an incarcerated parent, utilize alternatives to custodial sentences, including deferment of a custodial sentence and home confinement, when dealing with a person who has a young child.

Most of jurisdictions surveyed require that prisons that admit children meet certain standards.  These range from making available basic necessities including additional food, special diets, and access to medical care, to having child care services and special residential units available for incarcerated mothers with children.  However, some jurisdictions do not provide extensive services for children residing in prison. 

Global Legal Research Directorate Staff
August 2014

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Last Updated: 07/02/2015