The ‘yellow room’ for children visiting parents in prison

by Ilaria Lonigro - 2014.05.06
The ‘yellow room’ for children visiting parents in prison
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Every day an army of children – there are 100,000 just in Italy – go to prisons to visit their mother or father. Do the prison officers remember to treat the parent with respect in front of the child? Do they welcome the children with a smile? How do they interrupt the meeting?

The association Bambini senza sbarre (Children without bars) has been dealing with these questions and other important matters for more than 10 years. The funds raised will be used to supply prisons across Italy with a 'yellow space', i.e., an area in the institution that is suitable for meetings between children and parents. The model has so far been tested in prisons in the region of Lombardy. Just in Milan, there are a thousand children who have to enter prisons several times a month for years. According to the association, successfully managing the meetings between parents and children is of great value to society as a whole. It helps adults not to re-offend and helps children not to feel marginalised, lowering the risk that they will emulate the crimes committed by their parents in future.

“We're aiming for €80,000. So that we can roll out this model for receiving children in other prisons outside the Lombardy region. Awareness of this has increased in Italy.Which has the first European charter to implement all the recommendations made by the EU on this issue” says Lia Sacerdote, president of Bambini senza sbarre and also a member of the board of the European network Children of Prisoners Europe. The charter for children of incarcerated parents recognises, for the first time, the “right to a continuous relationship with their parent within the prison system and, at the same time, the detainee's right to parenthood,” explains Sacerdote.

“The life of a child who meets a parent in prison is made up of many details. Attention from prison staff is a very important link, which necessitates training for officers. Children and families shouldn't be treated like prisoners; they are free people and should be welcomed as such. It's important for the children that their parents are respected. The prison officers present in the meeting mustn't forget that the detainee, at that moment, is the father of the child. If the prisoner is shouted at in front of their child, that can be very harmful. How the meeting is brought to an end and how the child is introduced are fundamental details. The first ministerial circular, in 2009, recommended that prison officers should smile. They may feel offended to read this and it seems trivial but it is very important for the child to be greeted kindly.”

“The charter contains eight items that go into detail. There is also a recommendation to judges who set the sentences to be imposed on offenders. If the offender has a child, the request is to focus on the alternative measure, which in Italy is possible,” says the president of Bambini senza sbarre. A thought also goes to children who live in prison. “An article of the charter is for them. There are about 40-50 of them a year and we have not forgotten them.

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