Birth Companions’ response to the Human Rights Committee report: The right to family life for children whose mothers are in prison, published today.
Birth Companions welcomes the Human Rights Committee’s calls for significant and urgent reform to the way mothers and children are treated in the criminal justice system, and in particular its recommendations to address the needless and hugely damaging separation of mothers from their babies.
Specialist Mother and Baby Units exist in six English women’s prisons, allowing women to serve a custodial sentence with their child until they reach 18 months of age, and yet these units are hugely under-utilised; often up to 50% of places are vacant.
Women who have recently given birth and are facing court proceedings are unable to apply for a place in such a unit until they have been sentenced, resulting in separation from their infant for several weeks or even months while the application is processed.
Given the growing weight of evidence on the impact of maternal stress on unborn babies and infants, and the vital role of early attachment, such needless separations cannot be allowed to continue. On that basis we are grateful to the Committee for taking on board our concerns and urging government to ensure that no mother of a baby will begin a prison sentence until a place has been secured in a MBU, and that all pregnant women will have an MBU place after birth, unless safeguarding concerns dictate otherwise.
The MBU application process is in need of wholesale reform, taking into account the needs of pregnant women as well as those who’ve already given birth. The process has been shown to be hugely stressful for pregnant women, who are often made to wait for months before they find out whether or not they have a place and are able to keep their baby with them. In some cases a decision isn’t made until after the baby is born. These decisions themselves are also in need of far greater scrutiny. Research has suggested the current procedure for women prisoners to gain an MBU place is sometimes neither fair nor accessible, which is deeply concerning given that the consequences are so grave for both parties.
We hope the Ministry of Justice and HMPPS will take today’s report fully on board, and respond with immediate commitments to end avoidable separations of mother and child and improve data collection, as well as addressing other shortcomings in the treatment of pregnant women and mothers across the prison estate.
Notes to editors
For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Kirsty Kitchen, Head of Policy and Communications on 07792779742 or email [email protected]
Birth Companions is the UK’s leading voice on the needs and experiences of pregnant women and new mothers affected by the criminal justice system.
Birth Companions’ Director Naomi Delap gave evidence to the Human Rights Committee on 6 March 2019 on the issues relating to Mother and Baby Units and a range of other concerns about the treatment of pregnant women and new mothers in the prison system.