We welcome the Ministry of Justice’s announcement tonight (31 March 2020) that steps will be taken to arrange the release of pregnant women and those on Mother and Baby Units from prison as soon as possible, and we hope this will pave the way for further releases among the female prison population.
Birth Companions has been working with a number of our sister organisations including Women in Prison, Trevi House and Hibiscus, and with specialist midwife Dr Laura Abbott, to formulate plans to support those who may be released from prison, before, during and after that release, in order to ensure the safety of mothers and babies. We have been in talks with Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) about setting these plans in motion, and we are pleased to note in tonight’s announcement that these releases will be processed after assessments have been made and suitable accommodation found for these women.
We and many others have been campaigning for these steps to be taken as a matter of urgency since the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, and we would like to thank all those who have supported us along the way. The work is not over, however. We now need to make sure women are connected with the maternity services and wider physical and mental health services crucial to keeping them and their babies safe in the weeks and months ahead. The transition from prison to the community is a difficult and risky time for many women, and even more so now given the threat posed by Covid-19 and the isolation measures in place across the country.
We are looking forward to working with HMPPS and MoJ to make sure these women are given resource packs when they leave the prison gates, containing detailed information on Covid-19 and the continuation of their care in the community, as well as practical items so they have the essentials they need for the immediate days. If they don’t have a fully charged mobile phone with ample credit, an appropriate discharge grant, basic food and healthcare supplies, and safe transport to wherever they need to go, for example, they will be forced to use public transport and visit several shops in the hours
after they leave prison, exposing them and others to the risk of Covid-19.
All of us – the prison and probation services, local authorities, the NHS, and the voluntary sector - need to work together to ensure a considered, coordinated and yet swift effort to move these women and babies to a place of safety, from where they can receive the services they require now and in the weeks and months to come.