• Julie Wedel Gjelstrup
4. term, Social Work, Master (Master Programme)
In 2010 The Danish Prison and Probation Service and The Danish Institute for Human Rights started a two-year project in four Danish prison institutions. One or two staff members were selected to the job as children’s officers (Børneansvarlige). Their job was to help the inmates and their children to maintain contact during imprisonment and to counsel the imprisoned parents with questions and dilemmas of being an inmate as well as a parent. Based on the results from these two years the project was introduced in all Danish prisons institutions in 2013 for a period of four years.

This master thesis studies how the project with children’s officers is implemented, when the imprisoned parent is in remand custody. The thesis is based on a qualitative study of interviews with the project manager and five children’s officers.

The analysis shows that there are a number of difficulties for the children’s officers in getting out to the children of imprisoned parents. First of all the strict security means that there are limits to what it is even possible to do, and secondly the children’s officers are sometimes met with resistance from both the inmates and from their colleagues. The resistance from the inmates is related to a feeling of shame. When the inmates are in contact with the children’s officers they can feel shameful for being a parent as well as an inmate but also for not being able to live up to the children’s officers’ expectations to the father role. Through emotional labor the children’s officers try to understand and grasp the inmates’ feelings and needs and they try to change the feeling of shame to a feeling of pride. The children’s officers also experience resistance from their colleagues, which is mostly expressed through lack of willingness to be a part of the project and through the children’s officers’ being aware of not being inconveniencing their colleagues. However, one of the children’s officers expresses that some colleagues talk negatively about the project without acknowledgement of these children’s special needs.

Furthermore the analysis shows that the children’s officers use a high degree of discretion in their work. As street-level-bureaucrats the children’s officers have a big impact on how the project is implemented. Their discretion influences what is possible to do, and it is very much their evaluation how much support the inmates are worthy of receiving. When the inmates have supervised visits and their letters are checked the children’s officers’ discretions are very different from each other and the degree to which the inmates are able to stay in contact with their children varies a lot. In addition it shows that the children’s officers distinguish between whether the inmates are worthy of support. In this case three groups stand out – foreigners, sexual abusers and inmates that don’t show (enough) interest for their children. These inmates and thus also their children don't get the same support and the same opportunity to keep in contact with their imprisoned parents.

Finally I find that the primary purpose with this project for the children’s officers is to improve the conditions for the children and to support the contact and relationship under remand custody. The children’s officers are especially focused on increasing the children’s knowledge of their parent’s imprisonment. However, the analysis also shows that the children’s officers have a personal agenda with the project. Through improved relations with inmates and positive reactions from the children they get positive experience and acknowledgement in their work.

The thesis ends in a conclusion and a discussion. Overall it shows that the project in many ways is implemented alike by the differently child’s officers, but the analysis also shows that they do a lot of things very differently and that the implementation depends on who they are and their individual discretions. The analysis makes it obvious that there are a number of dilemmas connected to the project. It is discussed how the children’s perspective gets in focus and is handled in the project, and how the project, based on certain norms and values, doesn't overstep the inmates’ boundaries and own values. Finally, the project is seen in the current context of The Danish Prison and Probation Service with an increased focus on rehabilitation on one side and increased penal populism on the other.
Publication date2 Aug 2015
ID: 216912461