The families and whanau of prisoners have specific needs directly related to the loss of having a partner in prison. They are very often unable to share their difficulties with family and friends as they risk being socially isolated and often become ostracized by their communities due to the crime of their family member. Along with this, they also can struggle with the behavioural issues of their children who are often teased and bullied by their peers because of the crime of their parent.
While each family’s experience is unique, there are some common themes. Many families and whanau find that, at a time when help is most needed, people seem to withdraw from them. There is often a sense of shame and a fear of being labeled. No one appears to understand or care what is happening to them.
Many families and whanau were already short on money before their partner’s imprisonment and now are plunged into a struggle for economic survival. The justice system and its procedures are often baffling and frustrating. Self-confidence can be undercut by friends, family and society who criticize their relationship with the prisoner.
The public often plays “judge and jury” hearing and reading about the crime. Families and children are judged as well.
Women carry much of the burden imposed by the imprisonment of a family or whanau member. Since most prisoners are men, their female partners are left to carry on in the community.
These women experience many difficulties maintaining their relationships with the imprisoned family member and they often break down. Visiting conditions are usually stressful. Prisons are typically in remote areas.
The imprisoned family or whanau member is almost always out of touch with everyday family life. When visits occur, the happy and unhappy feelings and events of day-to-day life seem hard to talk about.
The families struggle to make a fresh start, they encounter a myriad of legal barriers that will make it extraordinarily difficult for them to succeed in caring for the children, finding work, keeping safe housing, and keeping themselves and their children safe.