Research by Action for Prisoners and Offenders Families (APOF) and the Hallam Centre for Community Justice, which claims to be the first analysis of care for mothers and babies in prison in many years, says that places are not always available or taken up.
All women who are pregnant or have a child below the age of 18 months at the point of entering custody have the opportunity to apply for a place within designated living accommodation in a Mother and Baby Unit (MBU). At the same time some MBUs are closing and others are under threat.
The report highlights the lack of consistent support for vulnerable mothers, whose problems can also include struggles with mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, self-harm and domestic violence.
The charities recommend that women who are likely to go to prison should be given information and support about child placement in advance so they can make an informed decision. The benefits of MBUs should also be actively promoted to external staff, mothers and non-MBU prison staff to increase uptake.
Anastasia de Waal, chair of Family Lives, which runs APOF, said, ‘It is clear there are no easy answers or “quick fixes” in caring for mothers in prison and their babies.
‘The Government should urgently examine why the very limited number of Mother and Baby Units, a diminishing but potentially vital and valuable resource in prisons, aren’t being fully utilised.
‘Hopefully the report can create the opportunity for reflection, will flag up the potential for positive change in both policy and practice. It is vital that all training provision around childbearing women and their babies (and indeed women offenders more generally) seeks to heighten awareness of the link between women’s often dual role as victim and offenders.’
Other recommendations include:
- tailored alternative sentencing options for mothers of young children;
- vulnerable women should receive specialist support to encourage healthy attachment;
- intensive support packages with a therapeutic focus should be given to mothers whose babies are adopted;
- mothers should receive parenting support and a ‘whole family approach if needed on release from prison
Read the full report, Enhancing Care for Childbearing Women and their Babies in Prison, here