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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 February 2008, 14:41 GMT
Mothers 'should be spared jail'
Prison officer
Ms Marshall said mothers may be more liable to imprisonment
Fewer mothers of young children should be sent to jail, according to Scotland's children's commissioner.

Kathleen Marshall made the call after a report found thousands of children in Scotland had been bullied because one of their parents was in prison.

About 13,000 children have parents in jail. The report found many suffered disruption to their education and development but had little support.

Ms Marshall called for their needs to be considered during sentencing.

She said mothers may be more liable to incarceration than other adults because community sentences may be seen as unsuitable when there are no childcare facilities.

A child impact assessment should be considered when sentencing options are reviewed, she said.

The report referred to calls received by Childline which mentioned prison, and gave examples of the issues raised by the children.

Kathleen Marshall
While some children may be relieved when a parent goes to prison, for most it signals the end of a carefree childhood
Kathleen Marshall

These included cases where a father forced a child to smuggle drugs into prison for its mother or children who were abused by a parent or carer whilst their other parent was in prison.

Another caller said they had been blamed by their mother for their abusive father's imprisonment.

Ms Marshall said children like these were invisible in the eyes of the law and were the forgotten victims of crime.

"Their voices are silenced by shame and stigma and, while some children may be relieved when a parent goes to prison, for most it signals the end of a carefree childhood," 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.

"As the future of prisons in Scotland is reviewed, politicians, the police, the Scottish Prison Service and social workers all have a duty to place children's rights, including stability in education and home life, much higher up the agenda."

'Wretched lot'

The report comes on the eve of an event in Edinburgh which will debate the future of prisons in Scotland.

Andrew McLellan, Scotland's Chief Inspector of Prisons, said: "The commissioner's report will help us all to understand the plight of the children of prisoners.

"Theirs is a frightening and wretched lot in life.

"Publicly they can be exposed to shame and bullying, while privately they cannot be comforted by the strength and love of the absent parent."

He said that worrying about children "is almost universal among prisoners".

"The more Scotland can do to care for the children of prisoners, the better for us all," he added.

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31 Aug 07 |  Scotland
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