1 in 10 women give birth inside their cell or on the way to hospital*, and in the last two years, two babies born inside prison have died. Even if the worst doesn't happen, prison causes toxic stress and trauma to both mother and child. Short sentences can have a long-lasting, lifelong negative impact.
The government can and must put an end to imprisoning pregnant women and new mothers by changing sentencing laws. Right now, there is no statutory duty for judges to take pregnancy or parenthood into consideration when sentencing. This has to change. The law needs to be strengthened so that judges legally have to consider the health of pregnant women and their babies, and avoid sending them to prison at all costs.
Why is this important?
In the last two years, two pregnant women have given birth inside UK prisons and their babies have died. Prison will never be a safe place for pregnant women and new mothers. But every year, pregnant women are detained and give birth in UK prisons, and 1 in 10 give birth in their cell or on the way to hospital.*
Even if the worst doesn't happen, toxic stress during a mother's pregnancy affects her baby's development. Prisons are extremely stressful and traumatising environments that negatively impact your mental and physical health – and if you're pregnant, the impact on you and your child is long-lasting.
The majority of women enter prison for sentences of six months or less – which is enough time to lose your home, job and be totally cut off from your family and support networks. When a woman is supported in her community, she is able to tackle the issues that swept her up into crime in the first place. In her community, she’s able to get support to give her child the best start in life, including easy access to antenatal and postnatal healthcare.
*This figure comes from a 2020 Nuffield Health research report: Locked out? Prisoners' use of hospital care in England and Wales.