Left to right : Ben Raikes , Prof. Adele Jones, Dr. Karene Nathaniel-DeCaires, Martia Bailey (PhD) and Katie Kramer.

Left to right : Ben Raikes , Prof. Adele Jones, Dr. Karene Nathaniel-DeCaires, Martia Bailey (PhD) and Katie Kramer.

On the 11th and 12th Jan 2018 a symposium on the impact of imprisonment on families was held at the University of the West Indies St. Augustine campus in Trinidad.

The symposium was hosted by Dr. Karene Nathaniel – DeCaires, Ben Raikes, Katie Kramer. Ben Raikes is Senior Lecturer within the Department of Social Work at The University of Huddersfiled UK, he is also an INCCIP Coordinator, while Katie Kramer Based in Oakland California is the CEO of the Bridging Group which provides evaluations of federal prison programmes for families of those incarcerated across the United States. She is also an active INCCIP member, working on the international best prison visiting practice mapping project, which she has incorporated into her PhD studies. Karene is a Senior Social Work lecturer at the University of the West Indies. In 2012 Karene headed up a multi country grandparent research pilot in Trinidad.

The symposium was very powerful as from what we could gather it was the first time former prisoners, child welfare NGOs, prison service officials, including the Assistant Commissioner of Prisons and soon to be Head of the Trinidad and Tobago prison service, and academic staff, (including Dr.Wendell Wallace from the criminology department, who is exploring Skype contact for prisoners) had come together to look at the impact of imprisonment on families. The testimony from recently released mothers who had served prison sentences, grandmothers and daughter of a mother in prison, was very powerful and moving. We also heard from another mother with small children whose husband had died in prison in uncertain circumstances in Nov 17 which was heartbreaking.

In addition we had a talk from Wayne Chance who has experience of being in prison . Wayne set up an organization called Vision on Mission that is funded by the Trinidad and Tobago government to provide jobs and housing for released prisoners. He was incarcerated himself in 1995 and then set it Vision on Mission upon his release with a prison officer he got to know whilst in prison. He was very inspiring as he follows an enterprise model and buys land for former prisoners to cultivate.

Professor Adele Jones opened proceedings with a powerful speech championing the rights of children with incarcerated parents worldwide, Adele is a Professor of Childhood Studies at University of Huddersfield, having successfully led the EU funded COPING project that examined mental health, well being and resilience among children of imprisoned parents in four EU countries.

On the first day the symposium focused on the situation in Trinidad , where gang culture has a firm hold, especially on young people, some of whom we met during a visit to the youth detention centre. It was striking that most of the 7 young people we spoke to had experienced the death of one of their parents. The Prison Welfare officers who facilitated our discussions told us the boys in the detention centre were told by gang members: ‘swing with us or die’ . In other words if they did not engage in gang related activities they would face being killed by the gangs – so their only way to survive was to join a gang. The murder rate in Trinidad is very high as a result of gang activity – up to 500 murders a year in a population of 1.5 Million. The slow pace of the judicial system is another feature – some people , including young people , wait up to 14 years to have a trial heard! The second day focused on international examples of good practice. Katie and Ben shared examples from the US and UK.

The Head of the Prison service was very interested in Corin’s Family Man project as part of the Invisible Walls project at Parc prison in South Wales. He made a very powerful comment recognizing that normally people come to the prison where he and other prison officials have power. However he valued the fact that everyone present came as equals to the symposium. In fact he hoped the symposium would be run again just as it was to raise the awareness of Corrections Officers about how families are impacted by imprisonment, which was a ringing endorsement.