MP’s urgent plea to reopen prison Mother and Baby Unit
Stroud MP, David Drew has condemned as “scandalous” delays which have forced pregnant prisoners to travel hundreds of miles away from their families, after the failure to reopen the south west’s only Mother and Baby Unit.
The mother and baby unit (MBU) at HMP Eastwood Park, South Gloucestershire, closed in September 2016, after a water pipe burst.
Now David Drew MP is calling for it to be re-opened as a matter of urgency.
It has remained closed since then, forcing vulnerable women to be transferred out of the region, hundreds of miles away from their families, to give birth or care for their baby.
“It’s a scandal and reopening this unit should have been a priority. The closure means that women from the whole of the southwest have had to go elsewhere in the country to have their babies. That’s simply unacceptable,” said David Drew, Labour MP for Stroud.
“Women about to give birth are having to go to London or the Midlands, which means the family support systems will break down," he said.
“The lack of an MBU in the whole of the south west, jeopardises women’s support networks and can make it much harder for them to maintain good family relationships and rebuild their lives. We must make sure that the right support is in place for these women, who are often vulnerable and with complex needs, and that their children are not also punished by our penal system.”
The nearest MBU to HMP Eastwood Park is 115 miles away at HMP Bronzefield in Ashford, Surrey.
Moving away from the south west, jeopardises prisoners’ own family support networks making it much harder for mothers to keep in contact with their older children, for instance.
Prior to September 2016, prisoners from the south west or Wales who were pregnant or who had children under the age of 18 months, could apply for a place at the MBU.
Mr Drew, the Labour MP for Stroud, has raised the issue in Parliament and said the long delay to reopening the unit, added to women’s trauma and made rehabilitation more difficult.
Women in Prison
Every year, around 600 pregnant women are held in prisons in England and Wales and some 100 babies are born to women prisoners.
There are MBU in only six prisons in the UK (including Eastwood Park, therefore only five active)
There are over 230,000 children in the UK affected by parental incarceration
In March 2016, 35 babies were with their mothers in a prison mother and baby unit (MBU). However, 29% of women were refused admission to an MBU in 2015/16 compared to 16% refused the previous year
Women are imprisoned further from home and receive fewer visits. While women are held on average 64 miles from home (compared to 50 miles for men), for many women the distances are much greater, adding to the difficulty and expense of prison visits.
In HMP Eastwood Park, where women from South Wales are commonly sent, 20% of women are over 150 miles from home.
Women’s imprisonment results in an estimated 17,240 children being separated from their mothers each year. For 8/10 children, it’s the first time they have been separated from their mother for more than a day or so.
Women are much more likely to be primary carers, with children far more directly affected by a prison sentence as a result.
Women only make up 5% of the prison population and therefore policies are often written with men in mind, as opposed to women
Children whose parents have been involved in the criminal justice system, are twice as likely to have mental health issues, live in poverty and have illnesses