A multi-generational protest took place today on the steps of the Royal Courts of Justice in London.
Babies, children and their parents came together to demand an end to the imprisonment of pregnant women.
Protesters are calling on the Sentencing Council to stop courts from sending pregnant women and mothers to prison.
Armed with banners, the group sang nursery rhymes in the London drizzle as they called for change.
Babies dressed in yellow and green, in honor of Mother’s Day, gathered and the group peacefully sang nursery rhymes.
The protest was organized by campaign groups Level Up and No Births Behind Bars.
Both groups have worked to highlight the need to end the practice of imprisoning pregnant women.
Janey Starling, co-director of Level Up, said: “Prison will never be a safe place to be pregnant. Statistics show that pregnant women in prison are five times more likely to suffer a stillbirth, which means that when a court sentences a woman to prison, it could also be sentencing her.
‘The courts have the power to prevent the senseless and unnecessary harm that the prison system causes to pregnant women, new mothers and babies.
‘It is imperative that the Sentencing Council introduce new sentencing practices for pregnant women and new mothers.
‘When women are supported in their communities, instead, they can give their baby the best start in life.’
Last year, the Royal College of Midwives was one of several high-profile signatories to an open letter calling on the Sentencing Council to review judicial sentencing practices for pregnant women, declaring that “prison is no place for pregnant women.” .
In response to the death of a baby at HMP Bronzefield in 2019, Her Majesty’s Prisons and Probation Ombudsman found all prison pregnancies to be “high risk by virtue of the fact that the woman is locked behind a door for a significant amount of time. .’
The Sentencing Council, whose offices are based in the Royal Courts of Justice, has undertaken to review whether there is a need for new guidance on sentencing pregnant women.
Women make up around 4% of the total prison population, with around 3,200 in prison in England and Wales. The vast majority of women are imprisoned for less than twelve months.
On average, there were 29 pregnant women in prison for 2021/22, and 50 deliveries to women who spent time in custody in 2021/22. 94% of these births occurred in a hospital and 3 occurred in transit to the hospital or within a prison.
Women in prison are five times more likely to suffer a stillbirth.
Aisha Dodwell, speaking on behalf of the campaign group No Births Behind Bars, said: “It is a stain on the justice system in this country that we have to protest to demand that no more babies be born in prison.” Imprisoning pregnant women and their babies is absolutely not in the public interest.
No woman should have to give birth in a cell. This barbaric practice is legislated against in other countries, but the UK lags behind.
‘We are a group of new mothers. We know what it’s like to be pregnant, give birth and care for a new baby. We know there’s no way anyone can do any of that safely in prison.
‘We are asking the Sentencing Council to approve guidance to prevent pregnant women and new mothers from being sent to jail. Prison can never be a safe place for a mother or her baby.’
Rebecca, who gave birth while serving a custodial sentence, joined the protest.
She said: ‘Being pregnant in prison was a horrible nightmare. The prison environment is unsafe and traumatic for anyone, let alone a pregnant woman. She was so underweight when she was nine months pregnant that the obstetrician was crying.
‘I wish the courts would understand the long-term impact of imprisoning a pregnant woman on both her and her baby.
‘Nobody seems to be considering the long-term cost to a child’s health and well-being. I was only in prison for a short period, but both my son and I have been left with long-term trauma.
“Whether the courts decide to accept it or not, our babies suffer and their human rights must be taken into account.”
Previously, the groups organized the largest baby protest in history outside Parliament and a breastfeeding protest at the Ministry of Justice.
Laura Abbott, Associate Professor and Senior Lecturer in Obstetrics at the University of Hertfordshire, whose research focuses on pregnancy in English prisons, said the government “cannot ignore the plight” of incarcerated women.
She said: ‘Prison is an unsafe environment for pregnant women. Pregnancy in prison is not just a political or health care problem, it is a problem of humanity.
“Cell births are not uncommon and women give birth on prison premises, without the support of skilled midwives and in non-sterile and inappropriate environments, far more often than they should.
“We can no longer ignore the plight of imprisoned pregnant women, nor can we continue to justify sentencing pregnant women to prison and subjecting them to high-risk conditions.”
Metro.co.uk has contacted the Ministry of Justice for comment.
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