Scotland: prisoners’ children ignored by the courts

The human rights of at least 13,500 children are being ignored when parents are imprisoned in Scotland, warned the country’s commissioner for children and young people, Kathleen Marshall, last week.

She said the children were “invisible victims of crime”, who are silenced by the shame and stigma of having an imprisoned parent, but whose rights and needs are ignored when sentencing decisions are made.

Marshall’s review of policies and practices found that in most cases the potential impact on a child was not taken into account by criminal justice social workers or the penal system.

Needs of children

Social enquiry reports can address social and family issues before a person is sentenced, but the review found that the needs of children were categorised under “other factors” and there was a wide variety of approaches taken when assessing affected children.

Since 1997, the number of women imprisoned in Scotland has increased by 90%.  The review noted that more mothers were being imprisoned because often courts did not issue community service alternatives.

Prison policies

Marshall’s report, Not Seen. Not Heard. Not Guilty, published last Friday (8 February), also criticised prison policies and procedures for not referring to children. It found that national standards and targets for prisons did not reflect children’s rights so parenting programmes or other facilities were at risk to cutbacks.

Marshall said: “This is not a plea for offenders who should go to prison to be let off the hook; it is a plea for their children to be protected from the very real and often brutal financial, emotional and physical impact of losing a parent.”

The report was published, with 28 recommendations, as policymakers met in Edinburgh to discuss the future of prisons in Scotland.

More information

Report: Not seen.  Not heard.  Not guilty: the rights and status of the children of prisoners in Scotland

Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People

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