A report by the Irish Penal Reform Trust has recommended changes to visiting arrangements for children who have a parent serving time in prison.
It is estimated that there are 80,000 visits to prisons by children every year.
The IPRT has called for a national approach to visiting rules and better family-friendly facilities.
Spokesperson Liam Herrick said children with a parent in prison are twice as likely to have mental health problems than their peers.
Prison visits are the primary way for families to keep relationships going while people are in jail, he said.
"There is some good practice out there in places like the Dóchas centre in Dublin, where there are good child-friendly facilities. But unfortunately as you go through the system, the other end of the scale exists," Mr Herrick added.
There are prisons that are loud and noisy and unsuitable for visiting families, and in almost all prisons no physical contact is allowed, he said.
Mr Herrick said visits to prison are not just a right for the prisoner, but also a right for the child, and there is a social benefit to trying to keep families together.