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Title: "Don't mention the P word" : the hidden consequences of imprisonment for prisoners' children
Author: Dobson, James Ian
ISNI:       0000 0004 5367 8704
Awarding Body: University of Bolton
Current Institution: University of Bolton
Date of Award: 2015
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Research, media interest, and political involvement around prisons and families have grown significantly in recent years, although there is scant evidence within the growing body of related literature of original work that documents the perceptions and experiences of families affected by a member’s imprisonment. This research attempts to redress this, taking a social constructionist perspective which uses unstructured interviews to gain a critical insight into why family members’, and in particular, children’s voices are often absent in this field. The research focuses predominantly on children’s experiences, expressed through their own words, or through the words of an adult. The findings complement and add value to the emerging literature in this relatively neglected area, suggesting that stigma, shame, guilt and frustration are commonplace for prisoners’ families. The findings also reveal that what is significant, but remains largely hidden in research to date, are the reasons why children often do not know what is happening when a parent is in prison. This thesis presents the results from interviews held with a sample of twenty-four families, including parents, children, prisoners, and practitioners. The interviews took place over a nineteen-month period, and involved, in many instances, a series of interviews with the same respondents. The phenomenon of ‘story telling’ where children are offered fictitious accounts to explain the absence of an imprisoned family member, thereby avoiding the necessity of mentioning ‘prison’ forms an important element of the thesis. Whilst these fictitious accounts were motivated by a desire to protect the children from the social harm and stigma commonly associated with prison, the children themselves often understood more than their parents realised or were prepared to realise. The research exposes parental anxieties and fears, evidenced in their narratives, and played out in their respectable, sometimes implausible, fictitious accounts they concocted for their children. What is uncovered is that, contrary to parental expectations, children can often deal with the imprisonment of a family member when they are presented with the facts, showing resilience, fortitude, and competence. 3 Additionally, the thesis shows how families struggle to navigate and make sense of the criminal justice system, frequently encountering hostility, incompetence, and a lack of empathy and understanding. Events such as the arrest of a family member or visiting a family member in prison can exacerbate the difficulties family members already face. By focusing the research around the experiences of children within these families, the thesis offers an original perspective and a valuable contribution to knowledge. The thesis demonstrates that it is prisoners’ families, and in particular the children in these families who are the real victims of prison.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available