The Royal College of Midwives has welcomed by a call from the prime minister for a “rethink” on policy regarding pregnant prisoners and female prisoners with babies.
David Cameron said yesterday that he wanted new pilot schemes using satellite tracking technology to monitor the movements of offenders to focus “especially” on women.
“Imprisonment of pregnant women and those with newborn babies should only be used as a last resort”
He said it was a “sad but true fact” that there were 100 babies living in prison mother and baby units last year.
“Prison staff do their best to make these environments pleasant,” he said. “Some units even have special sensory rooms, so that babies can see colours, sights and sound – even nature – that they wouldn’t otherwise see inside the grey walls of a jail.”
But he questioned whether it was “right” for babies to be “behind bars”, given the importance of early years for child development.
“There are actually women in these prisons who were born in the same prison 20 years earlier, and then have ended up there later as criminals themselves,” said Mr Cameron in a wide-ranging speech on the future of prisons.
“Think of the damage done to the life chances of these children,” he said. “I believe we’ve got to try to break this cycle.
“I want us to find alternative ways of dealing with women offenders with babies, including through tagging, problem-solving courts and alternative resettlement units,” he stated.
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Jacque Gerrard, director for England at the RCM, said: “Whilst in prison we should be doing all we can to ensure that mother and baby get the best possible care including access to antenatal and postnatal care.
“The detention or imprisonment of pregnant women and those with newborn babies should only be used as a last resort for women who commit very serious offences or pose a threat to others,” she said.
“Many are imprisoned for non-violent crimes and ideally alternative arrangements to custody would be made for women who are pregnant or have a very young baby,” said Ms Gerrard.
She added: “This announcement is therefore welcome news and the RCM will look forward to discussing the plans with the government.”
The RCM has previously published a position statement on women in custody