Dr Kirsty Deacon

PhD Student

University of Glasgow


Title of PhD: Young people’s experiences of the imprisonment of a family member

Funding Source: What Works Scotland

PhD Supervisors: Professor Fergus McNeil and Dr Sarah Armstrong

Approximately 27,000 children and young people experience parental imprisonment each year in Scotland. This is more children than will be affected by divorce in the family. While there is a growing body of literature in relation to the impact of parental imprisonment on children and young people, there is still a lack of the young people’s voices within this research, particularly those of older children and young adults. This research aims to begin to fill this gap in the literature. It also addresses the question of the potential impact of sibling imprisonment on children and young people, a subject which is rarely considered in research, or in policy and practice.

My research explores how young people experience the imprisonment of a family member (parent or sibling) with the following research questions:
• What does family mean to this group of young people?
• How does this group of young people experience family – before, during and after their family member is in prison?
• How do these young people deal with the imprisonment of a family member?

It was designed to place a focus on the family, and wider family experiences of the young people, rather than solely on the prison.

The first stage of the research involved spending 18 months with an arts collective known as KIN, a collaborative creative arts project between Families Outside and Vox Liminis for young people aged 16-25 who have experienced the imprisonment of a family member. KIN is a project which is led along with the young people themselves and gives them a space where their voices can be heard. Using art forms created by the group, KIN enables communication with other young people experiencing similar circumstances as well as the decision-making adults and services that are involved in their lives at these times. As well as spending time with the group each month I also carried out semi-structured interviews with seven of the young people.

The second stage of the research involved carrying out interviews with ten young people aged 17-21 who, as well as experiencing the imprisonment of a family member, were also currently serving a prison sentence themselves within a Young Offenders Institution at the time of their interview. This allowed the research to explore family relationships which were carried out entirely within the prison estate as well as those where the young person was outside and their family member inside the prison – something which is rarely acknowledged in literature or within policy.

Themes: Family, Children and young people, Prison, Punishment



University of Glasgow

Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research
University of Glasgow
Ivy Lodge
63 Gibson Street
G12 8LR


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