Each year in the UK, 200,000 children cope with having a parent in prison. Parental imprisonment is more prevalent than divorce, and these children are twice as likely to suffer from mental health problems than their peers.

Some people suffer financial hardship, social stigma and extreme bullying when a family member goes to prison. Prisoners’ families are also very often left completely unsupported during the most challenging time of their lives.

Set up five years ago, Sussex Prisoners’ Families (SPF) aims to bridge that gap with practical support and emotional assistance when it is needed. SPF also helps legal and family professionals to better understand some of the issues relating to imprisonment.

SPF has a well-trained group of volunteers who talk to families in Sussex courts, and at the visitor’s centre at Lewes Prison. Advice and assistance is direct and relevant, and there is a helpline (01273 499 843) that can be used if questions or issues come up later.

Immediately after sentencing, many families have no idea where their family member has been taken. They often don’t know how to arrange prison visits and they can be desperate to find out how their family member is doing in prison, particularly if medical or mental health issues are present. SPF helps families with this, and with other issues that arise, including how best to tell children that a parent is in prison.

SPF also organises events for families of prisoners, free of charge. These events provide a short break from everyday pressures, and the chance to meet other families who are facing similar challenges.

The next family event in Hastings will be the Panto at the White Rock Theatre in December. In the meantime, adults who wish to meet others dealing with the fallout of imprisonment can attend a private dinner at St Leonards-on-Sea in November.

More events are being planned in Eastbourne and across Sussex, so please contact [email protected] if you would like to attend any of them or if you would like know more.

Please also call 01273 499 843 anytime if need help with issues relating to familial imprisonment, or if you would like to be a SPF court volunteer. sussexprisonersfamilies.org.uk

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