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Pregnant woman, prison

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Parents and their babies will be staging a feed-in protest outside the Ministry of Justice to demand the law is changed to stop pregnant women being incarcerated, writes Mel Evans

On 7 June from 10am we’re expecting the steps of the Ministry of Justice to be tiered with parents feeding their babies. Why? To call on the minister to change the UK law that allows pregnant women and new mothers to be sentenced to jail.

In a protest dubbed ‘Spoons, Boobs, and Bottles’, the grassroots parents and babies group No Births Behind Bars will reconvene following their biggest baby protest ever held on Parliament Square for Mother’s Day earlier this year. 

No Births Behind Bars is a national group organising to stop the courts sending pregnant women to prison, end incarcerated childbirth, and keep new mothers out of jail.

As mothers, we know how important the first months of a baby’s life are. Other countries have legislation to prevent pregnant women and new mothers from being sent to prison and that’s what we want to see in the UK. It’s a matter of urgency after two babies died in jail recently.

In Bronzefield women’s prison in September 2019, an 18-year-old gave birth alone in her cell after calls for help went unanswered. Her baby died, and she was found hours later. This sounds like a Dickensian nightmare but it is our modern society today. 

Even for those women who do reach a hospital to give birth, they remain in handcuffs, with guards present and cut off from their families for the entire labour. Whether or not you have experienced childbirth, you can imagine how horrific it would be to face such conditions.

Being pregnant alone in a cramped, hard, cold cell is painful and chock-full of health risks for mother and baby, and for the first months of a child’s life to be behind bars is simply barbaric. A baby and new mother should be surrounded by the support of family and friends, not alone hidden from sunlight and fresh air – what a dreadful welcome to the world to offer these babies.

Six hundred to a thousand pregnant women each year are sent to jail – the government doesn’t even keep a complete record. The majority of women in prison are sentenced to less than 6 months for petty crimes like shoplifting. Prison only entrenches inmates in criminal networks – and when most women in prison have suffered domestic violence, homelessness, poverty and drug addiction, it’s clear that support and rehabilitation programmes would serve these women far better as genuine attempts to reduce crime rather than to win fearmongering votes with promises of sending more people to prison.

No Births Behind Bars campaigners intend to feed their babies until the justice minister comes out and speaks about this government’s barbaric practice of sending pregnant women to prison which simply must end now.

We’ll also hand in a petition launched by feminist campaigning organisation Level Up calling for pregnant women and new mothers to be kept out of jail and which has been signed by over 10,000 people, showing that the public don’t want to see babies behind bars either.

Do you or does someone you know have a pre-school age child or infant, and a thirst for prison abolition? Then invite them and come and join us at the protest. The Baby Feed-In will take place at the Ministry of Justice on Tuesday 7 June from 10am where we will take our demands to the government department responsible. We are calling on all mothers, fathers, genderqueer parents, carers, and midwives – come and feed your kids with us to demand no births behind bars. Bring spoons, boobs and bottles – however you feed your baby. No Births Behind Bars is determined to force this government to end its barbaric practice of sending pregnant women to prison.

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