Page last updated at 12:18 GMT, Tuesday, 18 August 2009 13:18 UK

Call to spare parents from jail

Tam Baillie
Tam Baillie said the children of offenders were a forgotten group

Scottish courts should think before jailing offenders who are parents because of the effect on families, the children's commissioner has urged.

Tam Baillie told BBC Scotland the parents of about 16,000 youngsters were currently behind bars, which had a negative impact on their development.

Mr Baillie said sentences should take into account the impact on children.

Ministers said the family situations of offenders would be taken into account as part of planned justice reforms.

The children's commissioner also said his suggested course of action could tackle the high prison population.

'Emotional development'

He told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme: "There will be cases where sentencers are swithering about whether to give a custodial or a community-based sentence and they have to take a number of factors into account already, such as seriousness of the offence and the likelihood of reoffending.

"One of the other factors I'm suggesting should be taken into account is the impact on children."

Mr Baillie added: "This is largely a forgotten group, they're invisible.

"We've got something like 16,000 children in Scotland whose parents are imprisoned, and it has an impact in terms of their social development and their emotional development."

The Scottish Government said it was committed to providing support to children and families who have a family member in prison, and sentencing issues were tackled in its proposed Criminal Justice and Licensing Bill.

"Courts are required to have regard to these statutory provisions when making sentencing decisions," said a government spokesman.

"Included in the principles of sentencing is consideration of any information before the court about the particular circumstances of the offender, including the offender's family situation."

The legislation would also establish a sentencing council to give guidance on the sentencing of offenders.

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