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Abstract from

Children of Imprisoned Parents in Scandinavia: Their Problems, Treatment and the Role of Scandinavian Penal Culture

Peter Scharff Smith is a Senior Researcher at the Danish Institute for Human Rights in Denmark.

In some ways, the issue of prisoner’s children seems to be one of the major Gordian knots facing the practice of punishment and imprisonment today. How can we punish parents committing serious crimes and still respect the situation and rights of their children? This issue has begun to attract attention during recent years, after having been more or less neglected throughout most of the history of the prison. Empirical research on, reports on, and advocacy for children of imprisoned parents have, for example, been produced in Scandinavia during recent years by researchers, NGOs and children’s Ombudsmen. Based on this research as well as on personal observations and new empirical data, I will in this article take a closer look at the situation of prisoners’ children in Denmark, Sweden and Norway. I will look into how many children who experience parental imprisonment and the problems they often face – especially in Denmark where most of the Scandinavian empirical research has been done. I will also describe some of the recent initiatives, reforms and good practice, which has been introduced, or is currently in the process of being introduced, in the Scandinavian countries. One example is the children’s officers, that is, prison officers with special training who are responsible for enhancing the possibilities for improved contact between children and their imprisoned parents. Finally, I will discuss to what degree specific Scandinavian penal practices might influence the conditions experienced by prisoners’ children. As I will show, there are examples of Scandinavian practices, which can both enhance and worsen the situation of prisoners’ children.

(2015) Vol 32 Law in Context p147

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