Challenges and benefits of gradual release programs for the wellbeing of children of prisoners

Ms. Holly Smallbone1,3  Susan Dennison, Stefano Occhipinti and Catrien Bijleveld

1Griffith University, Mt Gravatt, Australia, 3Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement, Faculty of Law, VU University , Amsterdam, Netherlands

A recent body of research on parental imprisonment has identified a number of benefits of parent-child contact for children’s wellbeing, parents’ recidivism rates and parent-child relationships. Additionally, this research has described some of the challenges associated with this contact. However, most of these studies have been conducted in closed prisons, where contact is restricted to limited scheduled visits and costly phone contact. More research is needed to examine the benefits and challenges of contact within open prisons (i.e., those with fewer security restrictions and more opportunities for family contact) for imprisoned parents and their families. In the Netherlands, open prisons provide opportunities for gradual release, where prisoners can return home every weekend in the final stages of their sentence. However, little is known about how children and parents experience this transition. In this paper, we draw on semi-structured interviews with 21 parents serving the last three months of their sentence in an open or half-open prison in the Netherlands to qualitatively examine the challenges and benefits of gradual release programs for parents and their children and the extent to which this process introduces new elements of risk or protection for children’s wellbeing. We discuss our findings in the context of implications for prison policy and program development to support the needs of children of prisoners.


Holly Smallbone is a PhD candidate in clinical psychology at the School of Applied Psychology, Griffith University, Australia, in conjunction with the Netherlands Institute of the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement (NSCR) and VU University. Holly’s research focuses on the impact of parental imprisonment and children’s wellbeing, with a specific focus on the parent-child reunification period when a parent is released from prison.


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