Illustration outline of mother holding up baby

Remembering mothers in prison this Mother’s Day

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This blog is written as part of a series looking at different aspects of rehabilitation. In this series we are looking at some of the factors that Nacro believes are key to helping someone begin their life again, after contact with the justice system. These include, accommodation, employment, family and community relationships, and access to healthcare.

Remembering mothers in prison

Mother’s Day can be complex. For some it’s a time for celebration. For others it can be a difficult day to navigate, for a variety of reasons. This Mother’s Day we’re talking about some mothers who are forgotten by society every day. Women in prison. One of the most vulnerable groups in society. Despite the stereotypes, many are victims of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse. Many face mental health problems, or addictions. For many their offending is the result of exploitation or abuse.

How many women in prison are mothers?

The women’s prison population sits at around 3,200 people. It’s estimated that two-thirds of these women had children who were under the age of 18 when they received a custodial sentence.

On top of this, some women are pregnant when they enter prison. In 2021-22, 50 babies were born to women in custody. In some cases, these babies will remain with the mother for up to 18 months in a custodial mother and baby unit.

What is the impact of sentencing mothers to custody?

The statistics are almost beyond belief. Annually it’s estimated that around 17,000 children are separated from their mothers when those mothers go to prison. Only 5% of children will remain in their own home. Whether moving to live with a family member, or entering the care system, this often means children end up moving school, disrupting their education and moving them away from peer support groups. The impact is devastating.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Nearly seven out of 10 woman going into prison have committed a non-violent offence and more than half serve less than six months. We know that short prison sentences are not only ineffective, they also cause unnecessary disruption to the lives of these women and their children. And we know that over half of the women leaving custody have no settled accommodation to go to.

What is the Ministry of Justice’s response?

To create a further 500 places. Not only is this in contradiction to their Female Offender Strategy, the money would be far better spent on women’s centres and diversion and support services. This would give women better access to the care and support they need, and a place where they can tackle the issues that swept them into crime in the first place, like trauma, domestic abuse, and poverty.

It is also just wrong that when a mother is sentenced there is no statutory requirement to take pregnancy or children into account. This means no account at all of the impact on an unborn child, the health of the mother, and on innocent children has to be considered. We support the calls from organisations such as Women in Prison and Birth Companions who have been working to change this.

This Mother’s Day, we are remembering those mothers and children caught up in this system, and we call on the Government to act now to make next Mother’s Day better for all of them.