Children of criminals ‘made to pay price of justice’
Judges should take account of the impact on a criminal's offspring when deciding whether or not to send them to prison, according to Scotland's children's czar. Kathleen Marshall, the Commissioner for Children and Young People, said young people were "the invisible victims ... of our penal system" and urged ministers and prison bosses to look at alternatives to prison for parents.
An estimated 13,500 children are affected every year by the imprisonment of a parent and the commissioner's report, which was widely welcomed, says they often suffer financial hardship, bullying and emotional trauma as a result. "We need to recognise and act on the undoubted truth that these children are not guilty of any wrongdoing and should not be required to pay the price of justice," the report says.
It calls for the justice system to "promote an approach to sentencing that takes account of the impact on children" as well as "appropriate community alternatives for mothers".
The report, Not Seen, Not Heard, Not Guilty, was published as former First Minister Henry McLeish prepares to deliver a keynote speech in Edinburgh today on the work of the Scottish Prisons Commission, which he chairs. The body was set up by the Scottish Government to examine the purpose and impact of imprisonment.
Ms Marshall yesterday insisted that her report was not calling for judges to go easy on those convicted of crimes simply because they have children. She 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 welcomed by Andrew McLellan, Scotland's chief inspector of prisons, who said it will improve understanding of the problems faced by offenders' children.
8 February 2008