End the imprisonment of pregnant people and the avoidable deaths of babies in prison

We are prisoners, ex-prisoners, academics, health workers, local councillors and social justice groups who were outraged and broken-hearted to hear the news that two babies have needlessly died in prison in the last year. We call on the Ministry of Justice to release all pregnant people immediately and to put measures in place on the courts to end the imprisonment of those who are pregnant.

One baby died at HMP Bronzefield a year ago in September 2019 and another at HMP Styal in June 2020. In both cases the mother gave birth in a prison cell rather than at hospital. The prisons and the Ministry of Justice have refused to release information publicly about why the mothers were not taken to hospital, despite being in labour. These deaths, and the resulting trauma for the families of the babies, could have been prevented with appropriate support and access to health care.

It is well known that access to healthcare is routinely denied to people in prison and the specific health needs of pregnant people are often ignored. In 2018, the Care Quality Commission found that prisoners had died due to prison staff failing to respond properly to medical emergencies. A more recent report from the Nuffield Trust found that prisoners miss 40% of hospital appointments and that prisoners had been admitted to hospital with life-threatening conditions caused by lack of treatment for diabetes. Research into conditions for pregnant people in prison found that they,

‘do not have access to extra or additional pregnancy specific nutrition, they do not always have easy access to a midwife, to pregnancy guidance or support, to maternity wear, heartburn tablets and.. not even a comfortable bed or breast pads’ (Abbott and Baldwin 2020).

An audit by the Nuffield Trust shows that in 2017-18 six births took place outside of hospital, presumably in cells or ambulances, accounting for about one in 10 births to prisoners recorded by the NHS in that year. While the Ministry of Justice does not publish statistics on this, research by Dr Laura Abbott found that midwifery care was often denied to people who felt they were in labour and that several prisoners and staff members had experience of births happening in prison cells.

The prison system manages people within it based on models of security and risk, which are incompatible with care for and protection of human life. Prison is not an appropriate environment for pregnant people; it is not conducive to either the mother’s or the unborn baby’s health (Abbott and Baldwin 2020). Organisations supporting pregnant people in prison have repeatedly informed the Ministry of Justice over several years of the poor conditions and lack of access to healthcare in prisons, as well as the serious risk of mothers and/or babies dying as a result. The Ministry of Justice has failed to take action.

This issue is now even more urgent due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Pregnant people have been included on the government’s list of those clinically vulnerable to COVID-19. In addition to this, prisons have responded to the pandemic by keeping prisoners locked in cells for 22 – 24 hours per day, increasing the risk of pregnant people going into labour in cells or being unable to access maternity care. The government acknowledged this with a promise in March 2020 to release pregnant women and women with babies in prison Mother and Baby Units, in order to allow them to safely self-isolate in the community. Despite this promise, pregnant people are still languishing in prison. We call on the Ministry of Justice to act immediately on this promise and release all pregnant people and mothers with babies in Mother and Baby Units, in order to prevent further harm and deaths

Throughout pregnancy, people should be provided with care and support towards optimal well-being, safety, and dignity for themselves and their infant. Prison cannot and will not ever be able to provide this.

The government needs to act immediately and we demand that all pregnant prisoners and mothers with babies in Mother and Baby Units are released from prison by the 1st of November with adequate housing and support. If this is not done we will continue to campaign until this demand is met.








Radical Groups / Campaign Groups

Prisoner Solidarity Network

Community Action on Prison Expansion Campaign

The Class Work Project

Desolation Radio

United Families & Friends Campaign

Kurdish Solidarity Network Jin

Merched Undod

Southall Black Sisters

Women’s Strike Assembly

Community Action on Prison Expansion

Cradle Comunity

Trans Prisoner Alliance

Cambs Prisoner and Detainee Solidarity

Kurdish Women’s Movement UK Representation

Shoal Collective

IWW Cymru

Anarchist Black Cross Brighton

Cardiff Food Not Bombs

London Prisoner Solidarity Coalition

Rob Griffiths, General Secretary of the Communist Party of Britain

Mymuna Soleman, Privilege Cafe

Prisoners / X Prisoners

John Bowden

Nicole Rose

Baris Aksoy

Kevan Thakrar A4907AE

Christian Barabutu A5064AV

Sarah Jane Baker


Dr Emily Luise Heart, University of Liverpool

Dr Joey Whitfield, Cardiff University

Dr Laura Abbott

Dr Michaela Booth

Dr David Scott, The Open University

Dr. Nicholas S.M. Matheou, University of London

Dr Roxanna Dehaghani, Cardiff University

Dr Robert Jones, Cardiff University

Dr Nicola Harding, Lancaster University

Lorenzo M. Bondioli, Ph.D. candidate Princeton University

Ilya Afanasyev, Research Fellow, Higher School of Economics, Moscow

Dr. Leila Ullrich, Lecturer in Law, Queen Mary University of London

Dr Lucy Bell Surrey University

Dr Julia Downes, The Open University

Francesca Esposito, Research Fellow at the Centre of Criminology, University of Oxford

Professor Elspeth Webb, Retired Professor of Paediatrics and Child Health, Cardiff University


Healthcare Professionals

Charlotte Williams, Registered Midwife, London

Catrin Jones, Holistic Birthworker / Doula


County Councillor Steve Collings Deiniol, Bangor


The content of these articles does not necessarily convey the standpoints of Undod as a movement. We have chosen to publish a variety of items by people who support our principles as a movement in order to inspire and spur conversation.