How young people experience the imprisonment of a family member: critical reflections on policy
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The research question is: How do young people experience having a family member in prison? This question is posed within the Scottish policymaking context, in which high rates of imprisonment and reoffending are entrenched problems for the Scottish Government. In relation to children and young people, there has been a focus on the performance measurement of holistic policies accessed through the universal services of health, education and social work. Although there has been a growing awareness of some key issues that affect families affected by imprisonment, concern tends to be focused on parental imprisonment, ignoring wider family relationships. In addition, older teenagers and young adults have largely been overlooked. This stage of development is an important one, because it represents the time when young people make the transition into adulthood. As such, it is highly intertwined with issues relating to self-‐identity. The thesis addresses the policies that are most relevant to young people, as well as the policies that more generally relate to families affected by imprisonment. It takes an approach informed by critical discourse analysis to critique the construction of young people and families, arguing that Scottish policymaking fails to address the core needs of these young people, and that the Scottish Government only deals with families affected by imprisonment at arms length. This leaves a policy gap, which third sector organisations step in to fill. The research includes empirical data from young people, who described their experience in open-‐structured interviews. A thematic analysis of the interview data shows the complexity of the emotional state that young people enter when faced with the imprisonment of a parent, sibling or partner. A discussion of the resultant psychological effects, with reference to classic sociology of imprisonment literature, demonstrates that imprisonment is potentially traumatizing, causing feelings of isolation and a sense of being ignored or even silenced. The empirical data also includes semi-‐structured interviews with professionals from third sector organisations, whose evidence shows that the policy environment presents a number of obstacles that block the way to providing appropriate services to young people. In addition, the topic of family imprisonment is under-‐explored by the professionals and this increases the risk that young people will feel the need to stay silent. In conclusion, the thesis reviews the theoretical framework, the policymaking environment and the lived experience of the young people and the professionals who work with them to conclude that there is a pressing problem, which is inadequately understood, and which requires the more insightful approach that research such as this can help to inform.