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'Invisible Victims Of Crime': Push To Recognise The Rights Of Children Of Prisoners

Around 43,000 children across Australia currently have at least one parent in prison and with the nation's incarceration rates steadily growing, that number is only set to increase

Described as the "innocent victims of crime", the challenges faced by these children are repeatedly overlooked by current systems including child welfare, education, and criminal justice.

According to agencies who work with children of prisoners, there are currently no police policies on how to deal with kids when a parent is being arrested or in custody. This means young people often end up living sporadically with other family members, moved into state care or in some cases become homeless.

One of those young Australians is 19-year-old Melody, who was left in state care at age two, after being told her mother went to jail for driving offences.

Photo: The Sunday Project

Speaking to The Sunday Project, Melody revealed how years later at just 12, Melody Googled her mum and accidentally found out the real reason she was imprisoned.

"She doused him in petrol and set him on fire," Melody said, recounting how her mother had been imprisoned for burning her stepfather alive.

"I still don't believe it. That my mum murdered someone."

Asked how she got through her teenage years with that knowledge while spending most of her weekends in prison visiting her mother, Melody revealed she struggled with suicidal thoughts for some time.

"There are days now that I still can't cope," she said.

No one understands what it's like to have a parent in prison.

Joel, 18, also grew up visiting his mum, a convicted drug dealer, in prison.

There are times, Brash told The Sunday Project, there were times he "despised" her.

"She let us down," Joel said.

"Your mum is supposed to be that core person in your life who sticks with you no matter what."

Photo: The Sunday Project

He said one of the toughest parts was seeing his mum in her jail clothes.

"She was pretty defeated," he said.

"I could see the look on my mum's face. That was something that's pretty hard to forget. It's just the look."

READ MORE: After Being In Prison Myself, I Know Why So Many Offenders Go Straight Back

READ MORE: What It's Like To Visit A Loved One In Prison

READ MORE: 'Easier Being In Jail': The Homelessness Problem For Prison Inmates

In Australia, there is now a growing push to recognise the rights of children who have no fault in the crimes committed by their parent or parents.

Developmental criminologist, Susan Dennison, says Australia's current system is setting young people up for failure.

That lack of support has left children who have a parent in the prison system an estimated six times more likely to end up behind bars themselves.

Speaking to The Sunday Project, Dennison said children of prisoners are at risk of poor education, difficulty getting employment, high risk of substance abuse and delinquency.

"What we know even less about is what it's like for parents once they're released from prison and how they reconnect with their children and what challenges that presents for them," she said.

Photo: The Sunday Project

Dennison is currently working inside prisons on developing early intervention strategies to help build stronger relationships between parents and their kids.

This week The Sunday Project sat down with Dennison and a group of mothers in prison to see this initiative first hand, after the Brisbane Women's Correctional Prison allowed cameras inside the jail for the first time.

"It's everybody's problem," Dennison said.

"Everybody in Australia is paying for all the people in prison and we are also paying for the impact that this is having on the next generation."

Catch the full interview on The Sunday Project from 6:30pm on 10. 

If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.

Contact the author: vgerova@networkten.com.au