What Happens to Pregnant Women in Jail?

Collaborative Post¦ One of the biggest questions surrounding women in jail centres around what happens if they are pregnant. For everything you need to know about pregnancy in jail, read on…

It’s the case that substantially fewer women go to jail compared to men – but how many of those women are pregnant? And how does that affect their sentencing?

In the UK, there are a number of rules in place that account for female prisoners who are pregnant or who have recently given birth. Yet, those rules aren’t necessarily common knowledge amongst the general public.

In recent years, awareness has slowly grown regarding the topic of pregnant women in jail thanks, in part, to a string of high-profile cases involving baby deaths inside prisons that were reported in the press. These incidents have also raised further questions regarding criminal defence for pregnant women. So, for a closer look at what happens to pregnant women in jail, keep reading…

What Are the Current Rules for Pregnant Women in Prison?

If a woman is pregnant and they are likely to give birth before the end of their sentence, then they will be placed in a prison with a mother and baby unit. In England and Wales, there are six prisons with a mother and baby unit:

  • Bronzefield
  • Eastwood Park
  • Styal
  • New Hall
  • Peterborough
  • Askham Grange

If a mother gives birth while in jail, government legislation dictates that they will automatically be placed in a mother and baby unit to look after their child. The mother can then keep their baby for 18 months, following which separation plans are drawn up for the child to be looked after outside the jail.

If someone is due to enter prison and already has a child under 18 months, they can apply for a space in a mother and baby unit when they enter prison. If there are no spaces available, arrangements have to be made for the child to be looked after outside of prison.

In July 2020, the government announced that there would be improvement to care for pregnant women in jail. This includes extra training for staff, and the introduction of an advisory group to ensure support for prisoners.

How Many Pregnant Women are in Jail?

It’s been estimated that an average of 600 pregnant women are in jail across England and Wales each year, and around 100 babies are born inside.

Despite the fact that there are a substantial number of pregnant inmates coming in and out of the prison system, concerns have been raised about the way in which pregnant prisoners are treated. In 2019, it was reported that there were 11 separate investigations taking place that involved incidents involving pregnant women in jail.

Can Pregnant Women in Jail Receive External Support?

Women and babies in jail are entitled to receive the same care and support around pregnancy and birth as women in the outside community.

Charities, such as Birth Companions, provide specialist support to pregnant women in prisons, as well as offering extra training to other serving prisoners and peer supporters. Birth Companions also work to raise issues and find solutions to certain challenges caused by pregnancy. For example, making hospital arrangements and providing maternity items, such as clothes and breast pads, are just some of their work.

Can Women Get Pregnant Whilst in Jail?

It is thought that all, or at least the vast majority, of women will have conceived before entering jail. However, there is a small chance that women could get pregnant whilst in jail, either following a conjugal visit, or after being raped.

A 2019 incident in the USA saw a woman who had been in jail for 17 months fall pregnant, despite having no recollection of a sexual encounter.

Pregnant Women in Jail Case Studies

Over the past few years, there have been multiple troubling case studies concerning pregnant women in jail. Some of these include:

HMP Bronzefield Baby Death

Tragically, in 2019 it was reported that a newborn baby died after a mother gave birth alone in her cell whilst in HMP Bronzefield in Surrey. Surrey Police launched an investigation into the death, which it said at the time was being treat as unexplained.

In response, the Ministry of Justice introduced extra checks on pregnant women, meaning that there should be hourly ‘welfare observations’ at night for women who are more than 28 weeks pregnant. Naomi Delap, the director of the charity Birth Companions said of the incident:

“Any births outside a hospital setting are worrying considering the grave risks for mothers and babies. Whatever the circumstances behind each of those births, we believe the majority of pregnant women and their unborn children shouldn’t be in prison facing these risks in the first place.”

Stillbirth at HMP Styal

Just nine months after the incident at HMP Bronzefield, it was reported that another baby died in prison, this time at HMP Styal. The exact details of the situation are not entirely clear, though it’s reported that neither the woman nor the prison service was aware she was pregnant until she went into labour on the toilet. She had previously complained of severe stomach pains, but was only treated with paracetamol.

Dr Kate Paradine, the CEO of Women in Prison said: “This is the second time a tragedy like this has happened in nine months. How many times do we need to address this avoidable sadness and pain before the government ends the harm and violence inflicted by our prison system?

“The government must act now, starting with the immediate release of pregnant women from prison. Only investment in community support will keep our communities safe from harm.”

Pregnant US Prisoner Gives Birth Alone in Cell

There are also concerns about the way pregnant women are treated in other areas around the world, including the United States.

In 2019, a video emerged online of a pregnant prisoner at Denver County Jail having to give birth alone in her prison cell.

The prisoner, Diana Sanchez, was left with no help throughout the duration of her labour, which lasted for over six hours. Moments after she gave birth, a nurse came in to collect her baby, who thankfully survived. It’s alleged that prison staff watched on from outside her cell without offering any assistance or pain relief.

The jail has since updated its policy to stipulate that an emergency ambulance must be called for any inmate who goes into labour.

Have You Got Any More Questions About Pregnant Women in Jail?

As you can see, this is certainly a complex issue, and there are bound to be debates in the future regarding pregnant women in jail. We hope this article has answered some of your questions regarding this interesting and controversial topic.

Have you got any more questions? If so, feel free to leave a comment below so that we can get a conversation started. The more information that’s out there, the better!

Disclosure: This is a collaborative post.

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