Darcey Hartley’s dad, Ian, has been in prison for over 13 years, even though he was only required to serve two years and 11 months. Darcey and Ian still don’t know when Ian might be released.
Sentenced to “imprisonment for public protection” (IPP), along with around 3,000 others, Ian is serving an indefinite sentence, at the mercy of the parole board.
Given that prisons are bureaucratic rabbit warrens that systematically neglect and abuse those whom they incarcerate, IPPs are denied access to the (useless) courses they are required to complete in order to make parole; they lack adequate legal representation; and parole hearings are constantly deferred. Such extensive periods of uncertainty have detrimental impacts on mental health both for the IPP and their whole family.
And even when IPPs are granted parole — as Ian was earlier this year — they live in constant fear of recall, as an IPP sentence comes with a 99-year licence. IPPs can be recalled for no reason at all. Ian was recalled to prison because probation couldn’t find him a bed in rehab. Months later, he’s still waiting to hear when he will next get the chance to appear in front of the parole board and be re-united with his family.
Meanwhile, Darcey is expected to be getting on with her GCSEs, even as she’s gone through the highs and lows of having her dad back, just for him to be recalled. Records of the numbers of children and young people affected by having a loved one in prison aren’t kept officially, but given that there are over 80 000 people in prison in the UK at any one time, the number of family members affected is huge.
In response, in August 2018 Darcey founded a peer support group called HMP Kids, where children and teenagers could offer one another advice and support when trying to cope locked away from a loved one. After establishing a Facebook group and a website, Darcey also decided to fundraise to supply others with materials to write to their family in prison, and also to ensure other young people have the means to go on prison visits, which can put financial strain on families.
Darcey says, “My Dad’s a kind, caring, warm-hearted man who would do anything to help anyone else out. He’s a warrior, he fights no matter what. He’s the bestest dad and even though prison has taken him for all of this time, he still does everything in his power to be the bestest dad he can be and I love him more than anything. He protects me with his life and is always honest with me.
“We have so many funny memories even down to the smallest things, where we was in Aldi and dad was buying a frying pan, he loves cooking so much. This was one of his first times going through the check out and on the sign next to the till it said 25 and over and dad paused, so I asked him what he was doing and he said we couldn’t use that till because it was for £25 and over and his pan wasn’t that amount. We explained that was for wanting to buy cigarettes and things like that.
“Another time was dad’s top had just been in the washing machine and it wasn’t dry so I told him he could borrow one of mine and we both laughed and I gave him my crop top and he put it on haha. He would do anything to put a smile on all of our faces.
“Just small things that we all take for granted but I would do absolutely anything in this world to get those back.
“Dad not being here impacts on us all so much, badly on my mental health and day to day life. We live dad’s life as well as our own.
“I decided to start HMP kids to offer children/teens help and support because this is not easy, when people think of prison they never think of the children involved and it’s the children who suffer massively too.”