Children with parents in prison

Available data

There has been a continuing shortage of official data on the number of children and families affected by a relative’s imprisonment. The 2016 Criminal Justice Act makes some steps to fill this gap, though much will depend on which children will be identified; the willingness of parents to divulge such information; the extent to which the information is collated and analysed; and the extent to which the sharing of information leads to additional support. Children and families of prisoners are only sporadically identified as a specific group within national or local policies, and no agency or government department has overall responsibility for supporting them.

Families Outside (April 2016) Rendering them Visible: a review of progress towards increasing awareness and support of prisoners’ families [accessed February 2017]


Estimated number of children who have a parent in prison

Based on estimates from research, about 16,500 children in Scotland have a parent in prison on a given day, with just under 2,000 separated from their mother through imprisonment. More children experience a parent's imprisonment than a parent's divorce.

Scottish Consortium for Crime and Criminal Justice (2016) Children, Families, Young People and the Criminal Justice System [accessed February 2017]


Percentage of fathers looking after children 

In Scotland, only 17% of fathers looked after their children while the mother was in custody. Other research in the UK has put this figure ranging as low as 5% to 12%. Children may go into formal care or, more commonly, into the care of another family member. This means they may have to move from house to house, depending on the length of the period of custody, and siblings may have to be separated.

Scottish Consortium for Crime and Justice (2016) Children, Families, Young People and the Criminal Justice System [accessed February 2017]


Percentage of prisoners with children

63% of prisoners have children.

The Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research [ND] Who’s in prison? A snapshot of Scotland’s prison population (at July 2015) [accessed February 2017]


Number of children affected by parental imprisonment

Barnardo’s Scotland estimates that 30,000 children face parental imprisonment every year in Scotland.

Barnardo's  [accessed February 2017]


Percentage of children affected by parental imprisonment

7% of children live through the imprisonment of a parent during their school years. There are many more children of prisoners than there are children in care. 60% of all women in prison have children.

Families Outside


Births in prison

More than 30 children were born to female prisoners in Scotland in the five years to 2015.

FOI statistics released by Scottish Prison Service reported in Deadline news