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The Best Interests of the Child and the Sentencing of Offenders with Parental Responsibilities

Abstract

There is a growing body of empirical research demonstrating that sentencing and other criminal justice decisions often have a detrimental, even traumatic impact upon an offender’s dependent children. Judges must balance numerous factors when making sentencing decisions, generally encompassing the protection of the public, the seriousness of the offence, and the personal circumstances of the offender. Should the probable impact of a sentence on an offender’s dependents be a significant factor to be weighed with these other factors in the process of sentencing? More specifically, when a court is sentencing an offender with parental responsibilities, does it have a duty to inquire about the potential impact of the sanction on the offender’s dependent child or children? Must it consider the principle of the best interests of the child or a child’s right to family life as a separate legal consideration in constructing a sentence? International human rights standards suggest that it does. After reviewing existing evidence on the potential hardship of sentencing decisions for an offender’s dependent children, the authors examine the experience of six countries in interpreting and applying these standards in their domestic laws, policies, and practices. They discuss some options for sentencing reforms in the broader context of efforts to reduce high rates of imprisonment in many countries and the need to address the differential impacts of criminal sanctions for primary caregivers and their children.

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Correspondence to Yvon Dandurand.

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Hayli Millar: Associate Professor, School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of the Fraser Valley, Abbotsford, BC, V2S 7M8, Canada. E-mail: Hayli.Millar@ufv.ca.

Yvon Dandurand: Fellow, International Centre for Criminal Law Reform and Criminal Justice Policy, and Associate Professor, School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of the Fraser Valley, Abbotsford, BC, V2S 7M8, Canada. E-mail: Yvon.Dandurand@ufv.ca.

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Millar, H., Dandurand, Y. The Best Interests of the Child and the Sentencing of Offenders with Parental Responsibilities. Crim Law Forum 29, 227–277 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10609-017-9340-9

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10609-017-9340-9