Prisoners’ Children Neglected by Scots Justice

Today’s hard-hitting report from Kathleen Marshall, Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People, confirms that the children of prisoners in Scotland are the “invisible victims of crime”. The Commissioner estimates that more than 13,500 children in Scotland face the imprisonment of a parent or carer at any one time. (1)

The report “Not Seen, Not Heard, Not Guilty: The Rights and Status of the Children of Prisoners in Scotland” sets out serious concerns about the welfare of children in this situation. In particular, the Commissioner highlights problems with the approach taken to prison visits, and the failure of the justice system to recognise the rights of the child in these difficult circumstances. The Commissioner reports that:

“Prison rules make no reference to children. Where children appear in prison policies and procedures it is as potential aids to the rehabilitation of their parent rather than as persons in their own right.” (2)

Welcoming the report (3), Patrick Harvie MSP said:

“Nobody takes the view that those convicted of serious crimes should receive more lenient sentences because of their family circumstances. However, the children of prisoners have done nothing wrong, and the Justice Secretary must ensure better facilities are provided for them to see their parents or carers in Scotland’s prisons.

“If Ministers fail to address this problem, thousands of children across Scotland risk being alienated from their parents each year. Prison is intended to protect society and to try to rehabilitate offenders. It’s in everyone’s interests that when prisoners are released they do not go back to their families as total strangers. As a society we cannot afford the unnecessary alienation and misery that the current system often causes.”

Just yesterday the Scottish Greens received a letter from a father held in a Scottish prison, raising exactly this issue. He reports being recently transferred to a prison with seriously inadequate arrangements for family visits, from one which had provided excellent facilities through a dedicated father/child scheme. In the letter he praises the arrangements in his former prison, stating that “at visiting time we could play games or do homework in an atmosphere that was productive for our relationship”.

This situation has been changed, he says, to one where “my son must sit at a table opposite me fidgeting because the environment he’s in makes him feel uneasy”, where his son is treated by the prison authorities “as if he’s the criminal”.

He reports his serious concerns for his child’s happiness, and for their relationship, describing the risk that his son will not wish to visit him under these new circumstances as “devastating”. (4)

Notes

1. Figure from Families Outside: www.familiesoutside.org.uk

Contact: James Mackenzie
Phone: 0131 348 6360 or 0790 99 33 074