News story

PM calls for rethink of treatment of pregnant women in prison

Treatment of pregnant women and female prisoners with babies to be reformed including tagging, problem-solving courts and alternative resettlement units.

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  • PM calls for urgent rethink of how pregnant women are treated in jail after figures emerge showing 100 babies spent time living in a prison last year
  • Government to look at alternative ways of dealing with female prisoners with babies, including tagging, problem-solving courts and alternative resettlement units
  • PM also confirms a pilot of satellite tracking technology to launch later this year

The PM has called for an urgent rethink of how prisons handle pregnant women, after figures emerged stating 100 babies last year have been living inside a prison with their mother following birth.

He has vowed to look at alternative ways to deal with female prisoners after their baby is born, including the use of problem-solving courts and satellite tagging technology, to ensure these babies get the best possible start in life.

Prime Minister David Cameron said:

It is absolutely terrible to think that some babies are spending the earliest months – even years – of their lives behind bars.

Prison staff do their best to make these environments pleasant. Some units even have special sensory rooms, so that babies can see colours, sights and sound – even nature – that they wouldn’t ever otherwise see inside the grey walls of a jail.

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.

Think of the damage done to the life chances of these children. It’s time to think seriously about whether this is the right approach.

We’ve got to break this cycle. So I want us to find alternative ways of dealing with women prisoners with babies, including tagging, problem-solving courts and alternative resettlement units.

At present, when a pregnant woman gives birth while serving a custodial sentence, she is usually transferred to a prison’s mother and baby unit (MBU) for an initial period.

MBU policy requires that these units should be available to accommodate babies up until the age of 18 months.

But under these proposed measures, the government will consider whether alternative measures could be employed to deal with female offenders, including problem-solving courts and alternative resettlement units.

Of course, this will not apply in every case and in some circumstances it may be in the best interests of the child for the mother and baby to reside in a traditional custodial setting.

Alongside this, the PM has also confirmed that a major pilot of satellite tracking technology is set to launch later this year.

This type of tagging could be used to track the movement of non-violent offenders, opening up radical new sentencing options: such as changing how we release prisoners on licence or the way community sentences are enforced.

The new pilots will begin on this later this year and this technology will be rolled-our right across the country by the end of this Parliament.

Published 8 February 2016