As restrictions are tightened again in English prisons, including the suspension of social visits, Birth Companions and 22 other charities and academics have publicly written to the Secretary of State for Justice Robert Buckland calling on the government to:
• Make a renewed commitment to a swift, effective programme of early release for eligible pregnant women and mothers and babies on Mother and Baby Units (MBUs);
• Extend this early release scheme to include eligible mothers of children under the age of two in the community across the estate;
• Work with the Sentencing Council and the Magistrates Association to make a clear statement to sentencers emphasising the need for sentencing decisions made during the pandemic to take full account of the risks posed to the physical and mental health of women and their babies in the current prison regime, in line with existing sentencing guidance;
• Engage in an urgent and open discussion with voluntary sector specialists on the needs of pregnant women and mothers of young infants in the prison system at this time, and taking account of the recommendations made by the Joint Committee on Human Rights in their recent report in this area.