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
United Families & Friends Campaign
Kurdish Solidarity Network Jin
Southall Black Sisters
Women’s Strike Assembly
Community Action on Prison Expansion
Trans Prisoner Alliance
Cambs Prisoner and Detainee Solidarity
Kurdish Women’s Movement UK Representation
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
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
Charlotte Williams, Registered Midwife, London
Catrin Jones, Holistic Birthworker / Doula
County Councillor Steve Collings Deiniol, Bangor