Birth Companions condemns the Government’s recently announced plan to create 500 new women's prison places.
This plan, which came as a complete surprise to us all, is in direct contradiction to the Government’s own Female Offender Strategy and the recently published national Concordat on women in the criminal justice system. The evidence clearly shows that the root causes of women’s offending are best addressed in the community, where women’s experiences of trauma, abuse, mental ill health, poverty and substance misuse can be identified and responded to by specialist services. Progress was being made in reducing the female prison population. This U-turn undermines all that hard work.
Building more prison places means they will be filled. We are particularly concerned that this will lead to an increase in the number of pregnant women and mothers of infants sentenced to custody.
Prison is not, and will never be, a safe and appropriate place for a pregnant woman or mother of a young child. It interrupts healthcare, separates women from their support networks, destroys employment and housing, and breaks families apart. The toxic impact of maternal separation in the critical first two years of a child’s life is well documented, and there are record levels of self-harm in the women’s prison estate. The damage prison inflicts on pregnant women, new mothers and their babies affects all of us.
There is no reason why the 20,000 additional police being put on our streets should mean more women in prison. This should be an opportunity to improve policing, to ensure women are diverted from the prison system and instead connected to the services and support networks that can help them deal with the challenges they and their families face.
We and many others call for an immediate halt to these plans, and for this money to be invested in preventative services and community-based alternatives.
Please join us. Write to your MP and express your opposition to 500 more prison places for women.