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This blog by Sophie Kenny, Researcher at Centre for Social Justice’s Criminal Justice Unit, was originally published on CSJ’s website on 13 March to tie in with the launch of its report ‘The Golden Thread: putting family at the heart of the criminal justice system.  We are cross-posting it here with their kind permission.

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought into sharp focus the importance of familial relationships. For many of us, the defining memory of this period is how little we could see, chat to, or hug our loved ones. While technology helped us to overcome the distance that separated us, the quality of these interactions paled in comparison to the physical contact we were used to.

Yet, this bleak experience remains a reality for a particular cohort of people. Families with a relative in custody continue to endure the challenge of separation from their loved ones day-in and day-out. Often, their daily experience is marked by a longing for the next point of connection, whether it be through a phone call or a face to-face visit.

Challenges for families

However, this is just one of the many challenges that families who are supporting a relative through the criminal justice system face. From the moment of their relative’s arrest through to release, families become entangled in a complex system which are they forced to navigate with little to no external support. Regardless of the crime committed, many families expend huge amounts of time, energy and money maintaining their relationship with their relative inside. This level of support can be all-consuming, whether it be for the father who attends court each day despite the impact it has on his mental health, the grandparent who picks up the child from school after their primary caregiver has been sentenced, or the wife who drives for hours every weekend so that her child can see their father in prison.

Arguably, no one suffers the effects of imprisonment more than children. An estimated 312,000 children are separated from their parents by imprisonment each year. As a result, each of these children will be at increased risk of psychological, economic and social harm, yet there is currently no nationally recorded or published data on the number of individuals who pass through the criminal justice system with dependent children. Critically, there is also no process for these children to be identified and therefore supported at the point of imprisonment. This, in our view, is a national scandal.

The impact on children

During the course of our research, we heard several accounts of children being left to live on their own after their primary carer was given a custodial sentence. In one case, Leo, a 16-year-old boy, lived alone for several months in his family home without any external support when his mother was sent to prison. As his father had passed away several years before, Leo relied on his mother’s bank cards to buy food and cover the household expenses. Leo did not confide in anyone that he was living alone. Instead, he told his neighbours that his mother was working away. Before Leo was identified by police and referred to a voluntary sector organisation in the community, he struggled to sleep at night and was extremely anxious.

Stories like Leo’s are why the Centre for Social Justice believes that the Government must act to safeguard children affected by imprisonment. We have proposed a mechanism of identification and referral that will ensure there are multiple touchpoints during arrest and sentencing to pick up every child that requires support when their primary caregiver has been sent to custody.

In total, this report makes 22 recommendations which set out a vision for a more compassionate and trauma-informed criminal justice system that responds to the needs of prisoners’ families. These include ensuring that all family members, such as stepparents and grandparents, can access family days in prison and measures to ensure families are supported to come together again after imprisonment, if it is safe and in in the best interests of both the family and the prison leaver to do so.

Families can play a critical role in supporting the rehabilitation of prisoners. However, no longer can families be expected to bear this burden alone. It is time that families are valued for the gift that they are to the system, and afforded the support they so desperately need. In the words of one interviewee, we must look at ‘the impact of that trauma on affected others. If we don’t deal with that, we are just setting in motion another cycle of pain, hurt and addiction.’

“Restoring the Balance: Tackling problem debt”, a Centre for Social Justice report, found that two million people are driven to high-cost credit every year because it is the only loan they can get. A network of new Community Banks should be created across the country as an alternative to high cost credit driving millions of people into problem debt, according to a major new report.


The report builds on the debt work the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) did in its landmark publication Breakthrough Britain, which Prime Minister David Cameron recently singled out has having a major influence on his Government. And it comes just days after plans were announced to cap the amount of interest payday lenders can charge – a move criticised by the CSJ, which argues that it could add to the 300,000 people already going to loan sharks.


The report’s major findings and suggestions include:

∙ Cut red tape to create new Community Banks for cheaper loans and banking facilities
∙ More than 300,000 people in the UK are too poor to go bankrupt because they cannot afford the £525 fee
· 8 million British households have no savings – one of the lowest savings rates in the EU
· Employers should help staff save with new auto enrolment scheme
· Recent payday loan cap could push thousands to loan sharks


Household debt in the UK has almost doubled in a decade to £1.44 trillion and around seven million people use high-cost credit, such as payday loans. The study says problem debt drives poverty and a range of entrenched social problems.


Almost half of people with unmanageable debt report that it impacts on their health. One survey suggested that a third of the 1.5 million debt advice clients has attempted or contemplated suicide. Three quarters also say their relationships have suffered as a result of debt, with one quarter saying their relationships ended completely.


Christian Guy, CSJ Director said, “there is a growing group of people under intense pressure as a result of problem debt.” 


“This debt rips into families and traps people on the edges of our society…people in poorer communities are effectively excluded from mainstream banking – hit hard by punitive fees, penalties and crippling debt.”


Red tape holding back successful credit unions should be torn up so that they can be reborn as ethical Community banks offering more stable loans and banking services at cheaper rates and on better terms.


This is part of a major package of personal debt reforms put forward today by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) that will bring fairer banking to Britain’s poorest communities and challenge the monopoly of mainstream banks and payday lenders.


Credit unions currently serve more than a million customers lending a total of £600 million. Because of current regulations, however, unions are limited and often unable to serve the poorest in society who would most benefit from them.


But with reform and the transformation of the bigger and best managed unions into Community Banks, they could potentially help up to eight million people in a market worth as much as £3.5 billion.


One major benefit is these new Community Banks would be able to offer smaller loans commonly handed out by payday lenders, but with much lower interest rates and better conditions.


To do this the CSJ wants to see a number of credit union regulations stripped back. This includes relaxing membership rules, removing interest rate caps for small loans and allowing them to invest members’ deposits to generate income.


The Community Bank status will only be available to select credit unions who have been run well and would benefit from operating on a larger scale. The CSJ estimates there would be around a dozen of these banks across the country initially.


Researchers say the package – which includes using peer-to-peer social investment to help expand community finance – would help many of the two million people every year who turn to high-cost credit.