Prison bosses have joined forces with children’s charity Barnardo’s to stop inmates’ youngsters from following in their footsteps.

Statistics show that nearly two thirds of sons of offenders will also become prison inmates and that 200,000 children in Britain have parents or guardians serving sentences behind bars.

Erlestoke custodial manager Nick Howard is working with schools on a scheme where the children of offenders can seek support and help, designed to keep them on the straight and narrow. It was launched at the prison on Tuesday morning.

School champions will be recruited to support the children of offenders. They will help to counter the stigma of being the child of a convict, a source of resentment that experts say often leads to the child also offending.

Mr Howard, who has been seconded to Barnardo’s to set up the scheme, said of the youngsters: “They’ve done nothing wrong but they feel alienated by society. Their behaviour may become difficult and demanding, their confidence can be crushed and their schoolwork can suffer, which has huge implications for their future prospects.”

“The inspiration came from a prison/nursery schools champions event in Bristol I went to. I thought it would be a fantastic idea to translate it to primary schools. It has been shown that boys who have had positive family visits with the parent in custody are less likely to offend. One of our targets is to reduce the stigma of having a parent in prison.”

School champions could include headteachers, teaching assistants or even catering staff. Volunteers spend half a day at the prison to learn more about prison life and experience the visit from a family’s point of view, as well as attending workshops on how to support children.

Schools will then be invited to display posters with the details of their local champion and how to get in touch.

Mr Howard attended a primary school heads forum in the area and got a lot of support from headteachers there, particularly Judy Finney, head of Dilton Marsh Primary School.

She said: “Nick, who used to be one of our school governors, approached me about it and I thought we would like to be part of it. Ofsted has graded us outstanding and, although our academic standards are very high, it is the child we look after first.

“An anxious child doesn’t learn, so we do all we can to make sure our children are well and happy. We don’t know if any of our children have parents in prison. Unless a parent or child tells us, there is no way of knowing.

“We hope children with these kind of problems will feel they can approach us.”