A national helpline for prisoner’s families is receiving record numbers of calls as many face Christmas without their loved ones.
Charity Action for Prisoner’s Families says that it has received 1,300 calls in the run-up to the festive season – a 14 per cent increase on the same period last year.
But the helpline is being hit by a lack of funds that could leave thousands of families without support.
It does not receive any statutory funding and relies on money from the Big Lottery Fund and small grants.
The helpline costs £150,000 a year to run and the charity is trying to meet a shortfall of £65,000 for next year.
The helpline, which was set up in 2003, is managed by Action for Prisoners’ Families and the service is provided by the Ormiston Children and Families Trust and the Partners of Prisoners and Families Support Group.
Lucy Keenan, the helpline manager, says the service is a “lifeline” for families.
“They feel they have no-one to turn to and feel utterly isolated and alone. While the Prison Service supports the maintenance of family ties and there is much research to prove that keeping a family together increases life chances of children and young people, the helpline has an uncertain future”.
Such a service is vital to people like Madeline* who, like many other prisoner’s wives, will not see her husband on Christmas day because no visits are allowed.
Madeline, 39, who has a seven-year-old son and a 13-year-old daughter, says Christmas is “a depressing time”.
She went a 13-hour round trip from London to see her husband before Christmas, and will not see him again until the new year.
“Getting there and visiting are very stressful, always tiring. It can be difficult to book a visit as the visit booking lines are always blocked up and the kids get disappointed,” she says.
Madeline’s children are among around 150,000 who have a parent in prison, according to official estimates.
Action for Prisoner’s Families says the majority of calls to the national helpline are from anxious families requiring information about visiting prison.
More than half of prisoners are held over 50 miles from home meaning that families face long, difficult and expensive journeys to often rural and isolated locations.
Madeline has been hoping for her husband to get moved closer to home, but nothing has happened so far.
“I try not to let it get to me and just get on with things and make the most of it,” she says.
* name has been changed
Key facts on prisoners’ families
• Two thirds of women in prison and 59 per cent of men have dependent children under the age of 18
• Five per cent of women prisoner’s children remain in their own home once their mother has been sentenced
• Nearly a third of prisoner’s children suffer from significant mental health problems
• Nearly half of prisoners lose contact with their family while in prison
• Prisoners who maintain contact with their family while inside are up to six times less likely to re-offend on release
Source: The Prison Reform Trust