Arrest and sentencing

Arrested male

Here is a brief summary of the key processes around arrest and sentencing, as they affect families.

Arrest - the child witnesses the arrest at home

Arrests are often deliberately timed early in the morning when the police are likely to find their suspect at home and in bed. When children are present at an arrest in their home, the sights and sounds they witness are very disturbing.

My arrest was very scary for my 4-year-old son. Armed police coming into the house when we were in bed.

(Prisoner father)

Arrest - the arrest happens away from home

If the arrest is away from home, or the children are not present, their father or mother has suddenly disappeared from their life, often with no clear explanation.

I was arrested when they were at school one day. I haven't been home since.

(Prisoner father)

Court proceedings

The actual arrest is highly stressful for families. Children can become very confused and fearful for their absent parent. If the accused person is released on bail the family still faces long-term stress as they await trial and sentence.

While some carers are able to plan together, for many families life after the sentence, in terms of care and support for their children, is not easy to visualise. If the accused is remanded in custody there are different stresses on the family.

I have been here on remand for 15 months waiting to go to court. My family is in bits. My teenage daughter is very angry and finds it hard to talk to me.

(Prisoner father on remand)


Someone is held on remand in prison awaiting trial. The court has considered whether the accused has any previous convictions, may not turn up for trial, may interfere with witnesses or may offend again. A remand prisoner is not treated as guilty and has certain privileges while in prison.


The prisoner has been convicted and given a sentence to serve in custody.


If a defendant is found not guilty when their case is heard, they can 'walk from court', meaning he or she is free to go home.

For many families, this is an enormous relief but for some whose relationships have been severely strained by the arrest there may be too much doubt, suspicion and anger for anything but a permanent breakdown.

If the defendant is found guilty and given a custodial sentence, they go straight from court to prison and the family may experience living apart for the first time. Sentenced prisoners will be entitled to fewer visits and privileges than when they were on remand. Anyone working with the children and families needs to be aware of this.

In the short video below, Zack, a prisoner on release on temporary licence (ROTL), gives a good overview of what typically happens to someone who is arrested and given a custodial sentence.

Falling wall