Children sufferers in jail visits
By UTE SCHULENBERG
FOR Ali Childs, visiting Brisbane's maximum security women's prison was the most confronting moment in her year as part of the National Youth Roundtable.
"I felt traumatised for a couple of days afterwards," the 25year-old Kalang mother of two said.
"It was devastating to see all these women, separated from their kids, many of whom are now left completely alone."
Ali said many of the women were in jail on drug charges or repeat offences.
"This is not the way to deal with these people," she said.
Going to the prison was part of Ali's research project into the effects of parental incarceration on children.
Together with three other Roundtable members, who she first met in April, Ali set out to examine what initiatives could help children better bond with their incarcerated parents.
"Our main objective was to get better facilities in the prisons for the children ? books, some toys ? anything to give them something to do rather than sitting at metal tables," she said.
The group's research found that more than 14,500 children in NSW each year suffer the effects of having a parent, or in some cases, both parents in jail.
The effects can range from bedwetting, violence and degrad- ed health to depression, self harm, drug abuse and suicide.
"The children are too often treated as criminals, when in reality they are the victims," the final report stated.
"Up to $70,000 is spent each year on incarcerating one inmate ? why can't we afford to make every child's visit a little less traumatic?"
The group spoke to inmates, their families and prison staff to pull together a list of recommendations on how to improve facilties.
Their recommendations included outdoor areas for kids to run around, mats for small children to lie down, adequate spacing of tables for privacy, play equipment, and a children's toilet.
"These are simple recommendations that wouldn't cost much," Ali said.
Seeing other people whose lives have been affected by the incarceration of a loved one, has been a very healing experience.
"I saw many people much worse off than myself," Ali said.
"It helped me to get over the trauma of my ex-husband going to jail ? it's a big relief.
"It also helped the children, who asked me lots of questions and can now better understand what happened."
And what now? It's back to flying lessons and writing a novel.
"All those things that have taken a back seat this year," Ali said.