Tuesday, 5 July 2011
Babies Behind Bars
I used to live next door to a prison.
HMP Cornton Vale is a closed women's prison for remand and sentenced women. I would often look over to the prison and wonder what it was like inside. I have a bit of a strange fascination with prisons despite never being in one. I would see the women in the independent living houses coming outside to do normal things like take out their rubbish and weed their front gardens. One thing that never really crossed my mind was what happened to pregnant women and their babies in prison. That was not until I had had my own baby and recently got sucked into the ITV programme 'Babies Behind Bars'.
It really got me thinking.
Is it right to allow pregnant women to keep their babies behind bars up to 18 months old?
Most babies are removed from their mothers 24 hours after birth. Is this fair?
If the point of prison is punishment then aren't babies who are kept in prison being punished for something that was nothing to do with them?
If the point of prison is rehabilitation then will mother and baby units provide these mothers with the support system they need to make a fresh start and hopefully reduce reoffending?
It's so difficult. So many questions and feelings were going through my head when I was watching this programme. I just had to share it with you.
I felt immensely sad watching the mothers going through labour then having to give away their baby to prison guards. However I also felt a bit skeptical when I realised that some of the mothers already had a squad of children in care and I wondered 'why would this time be any different?'
I guess what makes it different is that this time round the mothers are away from the influence of their social groups that draw them into crime. They are well supported within the prison service and are given a good amount of time to bond with their child. But does it make a difference after they are released?
Well studies are in their infancy but it does appear from some of the research that has taken place in the UK that the return to custody rate is much lower for women who spend time in the mother and baby units with the prison service. A review into YOI Styal in Cheshire found that the return to prison rate among the general prison rate is 77% whereas the return rate for the Mother and Baby unit women is around 12.5%. So this is promising stuff.
After all, some of the women in prison are there through silly mistakes they have made, bad friendships they have fostered and violent relationships they have found themselves in.It is a lovely thought that by giving them support to experience the wonderfully rewarding side of motherhood, free from the pressures of their ordinary lives, that they can find the courage, strength and conviction to lead better lives for their children.
I am sure that there are some women who would not benefit from these projects and for the safety and welfare of their children, it is better that they are separated. I think the review process of applications must be extremely difficult and I don't envy these people.
Anyway, I have rambled, apologies. I just thought it was such an interesting topic and wanted to share.
What do you think?