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?


  1. Claire, this is a great post about a difficult subject, something worth thinking about - such a difficult issue.  Personally, I think babies are better off with their mothers, if their mothers are capable of doing a good job of parenting, if there is no risk. It seems to me to make sense to keep babies with their mothers until they are 18 months old, I think it gives both of them the best opportunity to make it work. 

  2. I think you are right and most of the evidence suggests that in most cases,
    where the mother is not a risk to her child, that it is better for both baby
    and mum to keep them together. It's a bit of an emotive subject!

  3. AlexanderResidence6 July 2011 at 20:23

    Really interesting and well handled, great post. I think they are best with their mothers as babies need so little beyond their mothers at that age.  I guess it depends on the crime, but I kind of think a lot of people in prison need rehabilitation not punishment and was interested to hear what a great part of that babies can be.

  4. AlexanderResidence6 July 2011 at 20:23

    Ps thanks for your words of encouragement!

  5. Ooooh you've just reminded me I've got the second episode of this on Sky+ from Monday to watch.
    It's definitely a highly emotive and difficult subject to tackle but you've done it brilliantly.  I am definitely of the camp that babies are better off with their mothers providing the mother is capable and poses no threat to the baby.  Some of the women in the series have just, as you said, got in with the wrong crowd, 
    I know there are people that say it's wrong for babies to live live behind bars but children don't remember the first 18/24 months and surely if the mother can spend time bonding with her baby in a contained environment then it will mean that once she is released her bond will be so much that she will go the extra mile to protect her baby.  
    Really thought provoking isn't it?

  6. You are very welcome x

  7. I found the program fascinating! I had never given it any thought but found myself being drawn into the subject after watching the program. X

  8. Yep I think the crime committed is important too but as you said the mother is the centre of their universe at that age.

  9. I have been watching this too and also used to work with offenders on release from custody.  I think if you can keep families together at the start it is probably best for their chance of bonding and may give the women that reason to change.  However, what a start for a little one.  Like with you it does real evoke mixed feelings in me x

  10. Mummyandthebeastie13 July 2011 at 10:04

    I am late responding to this but just wanted to say I watched some of it too. It is a really tough subject and I agree it must be hard being the ones having to make the decisions. I agree that it gives the Mum's a new purpose and outlook on life, and babies are usually best with Mum. However, you have to look at the environment for the little ones and like you said the kids some have left behind. Everyones story is different but there were some Mum's there that made me angry. When you think of these poor people that can't even have kids themselves, where's the justice? x


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