The child's interest is not always implemented in activities in mother-and-child sections of prisons, Ombudsman Riitta-Leena Paunio points out in an opinion that she has presented to the Ministry of Justice and the Criminal Sanctions Agency. There are also problems relating to the placement of a child with its parent.
The Ombudsman also takes the view that prisons are not doing enough to support the parenthood of a mother who is incarcerated together with her child and the objectives that execution of her custodial sentence has.
These opinions are based on the Ombudsman's visits in 2007 to the mother-and-child sections of Hämeenlinna and Vanaja prisons and explanatory reports received from the Criminal Sanctions Agency.
The Ombudsman has asked the Ministry of Justice and the Criminal Sanctions Agency to inform her, by 30.11.2009, of the measures to which her opinions have given rise.
Several problematic points
Based on observations that she had made on inspection visits, the Ombudsman took it on her own initiative to investigate whether implementation of the child's interest is examined in accordance with the law when a decision is made to admit a child to a prison.
In the light of her investigation, the Ombudsman identifies several problematic points in implementation of the child's interest when a child is in prison with its parent.
Some parents entering a prison are not informed that the law provides them with the opportunity to request that their child be allowed to be with them in the prison. Uncertainty of receipt of information can not be acceptable. The authorities must ensure that all prisoners who have this opportunity are so informed.
Another matter that the Ombudsman regards as problematic is that there have been shortcomings in reports by child welfare authorities assessing the child's interest. Municipalities are not sufficiently aware of conditions in prisons. This has made decisions concerning a child's placement more difficult.
In the Ombudsman's view, the appropriateness of the reports must be followed and developed so that implementation of the child's interest can be safeguarded. She points out that the Administrative Procedure Act requires a person making a decision to obtain sufficient additional reports to be able to arrive at a decision in the matter.
A further problematic aspect identified by the Ombudsman is that placement of a child with its parent in a prison in accordance with the child's interest can in the worst case even be prevented, because there are not enough mother-and-child places.
It can not be regarded as acceptable that the solution that is considered best for the child can not be implemented due to a shortage of suitable facilities. The Constitution obliges the public authorities to ensure that fundamental and human rights are implemented. Scarcity of resources does not absolve the public authorities of this obligation.
The mother's problems are reflected onto the child
The inspection visits revealed that incarcerated mothers take care of their children virtually round the clock and their opportunities to take part in recreation activities in the prison were limited.
Something that the Ombudsman regards as especially problematic is that there are shortcomings in rehabilitation of mothers who have problems with intoxicants.
In her view, the problems that the mother has in managing her life are reflected also in her ability to cope with rearing her child. Thus it is a matter also of implementing the child's interest. The situation of every child and prisoner should be individually assessed and taken into consideration.
The Ombudsman places special stress in her decision on the importance of rehabilitation of intoxicant abusers, because what treatment for intoxicant-abusing mothers of small children involves is not just rehabilitation of a prisoner, but also the wellbeing of the entire family.
Additional information will be provided by Legal Adviser Anu Rita, tel. +358(0)9 432 3362.