The Czech Helsinki Committee (CHC) is a nongovernmental organization which main purpose is to monitor and to protect human rights, with a particular attention for vulnerable groups (children, elderly, minorities etc.). CHC is also working with children with parents.in prison and this issue is promoting as a member of the Children of Prisoners Europe (COPE) network.
On 10 of May 2016, CHC organized the 2016’s second assisted visit for 15 children whose mothers are imprisoned in Světlá nad Sázavou female jail. The prison is the only female one in Czech Republic, with a capacity of 600 inmates. The building was a former school and it was reconstructed between 2000 and 2004.
The children, who participated to the visit, had different age, between 2 and 16 years old, and live in different places, mainly in foster care homes. For few children, it was the first time they come to visit their mother after several months of no personal contact. The visit took approximately three hours. In the first part, the children and mothers met in a room dedicated to general visitors, and could, despite of the lack of intimacy, spend time talking with each other and playing. The CHC organized and financed the transportation, thanks to grounds of the Ministry of Social Affairs, and provided refreshment and toys, thanks to private donors, to overcome difficulties with commuting to prison and to make the visit more comfortable for children, who have to travel two or more hours there.
In spite of the fact that the room was not accommodated for children (no furniture, no playgrounds, no toys, and even no decorations), CHC staff improved the environment bringing the toys to the prison. This effort helped children and mothers to easy the communication and re-establish the relationship children and mothers used to have. It was possible to notice different reactions from the participants and also the positive effects of the visit for the children. In fact, the repetition of the visits and contacts with the mothers is a necessity for the child development.
In a second part of the visit, CHC staff gave the participants the opportunity to have lunch together which represented another occasion for them to share a moment of daily life.
During the three hours visit, as part of its counseling activity, the CHC staff met also others mothers who want to be part of the program. The main obstacle women in prison where mentioning was, that the foster care parents of their children are not responding to their request to bring their child to a visit or they do not communicate with them at all. Other women don’t even know where their child is placed, so they cannot write. Some of the mother-prisoners lack money for postals to send children letters or to by postcards with pictures, they have not enough money for phone cards to call their children in foster care homes. According to the lawyer and director of CHC Lucie Rybové thiese problems are not rare.
All assisted visits organized by CHC are achieved only thanks to the non-official agreement to co-operate from the jail’s staff and of social workers who are taking care of the children. According to the czech legislation and existing policy documents children visits in prison are organized the same way like visits of adult disregarding specific needs of children to accommodate the frequency, length and environment to their age. The child friendly approach is more or less implemented already in other countries like Italy, UK, Norway or Sweden.
- Pauline Kerglonou, France
- Mario Marongiu, Italy
- Interns, the Czech Helsinki Committee