Anti-breastfeeding protest calls for pregnant women to be released from prison
Campaign groups Level Up and No Births Behind Bars, which organized the protest, demand an end to the imprisonment of pregnant women
Breastfeeding mothers staged a protest outside the Justice Ministry headquarters to demand the government stop holding pregnant detainees behind bars.
Around 50 women sat outside Petty France’s offices in Westminster, London, to take part in the protest and chanted ‘no more pregnancies in prison’ before handing over a petition of over 10,000 signatures addressed to the secretary at Justice Dominic Raab.
Campaign groups Level Up and No Births Behind Bars, which organized the protest, are demanding an end to the imprisonment of pregnant women and new mothers after two babies died in three years when their mothers gave birth in prison.
A campaign supporter, who was pregnant behind bars but who the groups say cannot be identified for “protection reasons”, said: “Prison will never be a safe place to be pregnant because the urgent needs cannot be satisfied.
“I needed to go to hospital for reduced movement when I was heavily pregnant and it took five hours to go through the procedure to get me there and find staff to escort me. Anything could have happened at that moment and I remained locked in a cell, completely worried. There’s no way a prison could ever be a safe place because no pregnant woman should ever be locked behind doors.
Recalling the birth of her first child, she said all her rights as a mother were “taken away from me when I entered the prison system”. She claimed she was handcuffed when she was in labor and prison guards refused to contact her mother or the child’s father so they could get to the hospital in time, adding: ‘He doesn’t there’s just no dignity or care.”
A newborn baby died at Europe’s largest women’s prison, HMP Bronzefield, Middlesex, in 2019 after a teenage girl gave birth alone in a cell despite staff’s plea for help, according to a damning report of Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) Sue McAllister who found a series of flaws in her care.
The mother should never have been allowed to give birth without medical assistance in the private prison, Ms McAllister concluded.
At the time, Mr Raab called the events ‘heartbreaking, unacceptable and should never happen to a woman or child’, but said ‘significant improvements’ had been made in the care women received in detention.
Another surveillance investigation found a woman gave birth to a stillborn baby in ‘shocking circumstances’ in a prison toilet after a nurse mistook her job for menstrual pain.
The mother, Louise Powell, 30, did not know she was pregnant and did not believe she could be. Fellow inmates and staff at HMP Styal had ‘no suspicion’ this was the case until the baby girl was born prematurely – possibly between 27 and 31 weeks – in June 2020 in the block toilet her mother’s cell phone from Cheshire Jail.
Janey Starling, Co-Director of Level Up, said: “It is time the government ended the jailing of pregnant women and new mothers, ensuring they are supported in the community instead.
Mel Evans, from No Births Behind Bars, said: “Other countries have legislation to stop pregnant women and new mothers being sent to prison, and that’s what we want to see in the UK. “
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Dr Laura Abbott, senior lecturer in midwifery at the University of Hertfordshire, said prisons were a ‘dangerous environment for pregnant women and their unborn babies’ and ‘must be addressed urgently, so that women and babies can be protected”.
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “Custody is already a last resort for most women and we have made significant improvements for those who end up in prison while pregnant. We now have dedicated Mother-Child Liaison Officers in each women’s prison, implemented additional well-being observations and better screening and support from social services so that pregnant prisoners receive the care they need. .
“The number of women entering prison has fallen by 24% since 2010 and we are investing millions in community services like women’s centers and drug rehabilitation so that fewer women end up there.