Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

This Woman Can't Cope ? Why Put Her in Prison?

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

This Woman Can't Cope ? Why Put Her in Prison?

Article excerpt

Byline: SIMON JENKINS

PATRICIA Amos is in hospital in Holloway Prison, reportedly traumatised after starting a 60-day sentence for being a bad parent. She is the first mother to be jailed under Jack Straw's draconian 2000 Criminal and Court Services Act. Her crime was "condoning" her daughters, Emma (15) and Jackie (13), in their poor attendance at an Oxfordshire school.

This is barbaric. Ms Amos is not a violent person. She is no threat to society. She has not robbed, defrauded or killed anyone. She has not been imprisoned to protect herself or her family. Her daughters were not running wild as criminals. They claim, whether truthfully or not, that they stayed away from school to help their mother after their grandmother, who lived with them, died two years ago.

The law imprisoning the parents of truants is classic Blairite legislation.

Responding to a media hype over truancy, it gave Mr Straw a day's headline and a party conference speech. It sounded tough. It sounded good. It has led Ms Amos to 60 days in jail.

In prison this woman cannot look after her daughters.

They must live with their 25-year-old sister, who has three children of her own.

They have had to be excused school to visit their mother in prison. It is hard to see what conceivable "debt to society" Ms Amos is rendering in Holloway, or what "rehabilitation" might be considered appropriate. There is no suggestion that she wilfully kept her children out of school or that she was hostile to their education. She just could not cope.

NO other country in Europe would have sent Ms Amos to prison.

From everything we hear, she was a desperate woman who could not handle her daughters after they became teenagers. There, but for the grace of God and this Government, go half the parents in London. When the Blair and Straw teenagers got into scrapes, a "word was had with the police". Ms Amos's children were not even in trouble with the police.

Though her case was clearly a challenge to the truancy officials, dropping this sort of bomb on an already fragile family is cruel. The education secretary, Estelle Morris, yesterday welcomed the jail sentence and spoke of it as "sending a message" to all parents. Ms Morris must be a miserable minister if the only way she can send a message to parents is by seizing some unfortunate mother and throwing her in jail. Why was the father not seized?

Was that too difficult?

Ministers want to appear tough in their war on truancy, especially given the failure of their wars on drugs, hooliganism and mugging. But Oxfordshire magistrates are not obliged to dance to the Government's craving for publicity. Of the one million children who reportedly truant each day, the authorities could surely have chosen a less pathetic case for exemplary-punishment. …

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