Children with parents in prison

Note: We have based these facts on the latest available data. Some of the statistics (for example, marriages) are likely to change dramatically in 2020/21 because of the impact of Covid-19.

Children with parents in prison

Estimated number of children with a parent in prison

An estimated 20-27,000 children experience the imprisonment of a parent each year in Scotland, although no official data is collected on this population.

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

The Scottish Government states that about 20,000 children experience a parent’s imprisonment in Scotland each year.

Scottish Government (July 2017) Justice in Scotland: vision and priorities. [Accessed November 2021].

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.

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].

Births in prison

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

FOI statistics released by the Scottish Prison Service reported in Deadline News Agency, May 2015. [Accessed January 2021].

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.

60% of all women in prison have children.

Families Outside

95% of prisoners are male.

Public Health Information for Scotland