SCOTLAND’s jails must become more family-friendly because of the number of children with a parent locked up, according to the Liberal Democrats.

The party obtained statistics showing more than 20,000 children had visited a parent in jail in the last three years.

It is estimated that 27,000 children have a parent serving a jail sentence, which the LibDems say is more than who experience their parent’s divorcing in a year.

Studies show they are more at risk of mental and physical health problems and a t a greater risk of becoming offenders when adults.

Liam McArthur, LibDem justice spokesman, said the Scottish Government must ensure reforms aimed at improving links between female offenders and their families are not overlooked elsewhere in the prison system.

He said: “These new statistics show that children have checked into prisons on 21,027 occasions in the last three years.  “They are hidden victims of crime and the experience of having a parent imprisoned can have lasting impact.

“As well as identifying these children and ensuring their everyday needs are met, we need to ensure that familial links can be maintained so far as is possible.  “Positive face-to-face contact can play an important role in both offenders’ rehabilitation and a child’s development in their absence.”

Mr McArthur also wants to see the prison establishment as a more family-friendly environment to help remove any fears that children may have.

He added: “Visiting prison can be a daunting prospect. That is why it is welcome that the female estate is finally in the process of being brought into the 21st century.

“However, question marks remain about the extent to which these principles and reforms will be extended to the male and young offenders estates.”