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What does COVID-19 mean for new mothers in prison?

02 August 2020
5 min read
Volume 28 · Issue 8


Naomi Delap, Director of Birth Companions, discusses the charity's work with pregnant women and new mothers in prison

In September 2019, a baby died when a mother gave birth overnight in her prison cell-alone (BBC, 2019). Multiple investigations were launched and coverage of the tragedy revealed a raft of other deeply concerning incidents (The Guardian, 2019). Despite a shocking lack of data on pregnancy, birth and early motherhood in custody, we discovered that around one in 10 incarcerated women were likely to give birth in their cell or on the way to hospital (Davies et al, 2020). This evidence added even more weight to the Joint Committee on Human Rights' report (2019) on the risks to human rights represented through the imprisonment of pregnant women and new mothers.

While we wait for the prisons and probation ombudsman's report into the baby's death, the COVID-19 pandemic has augmented the risks faced by women and babies yet further. By announcing the prioritisation of pregnant women and mothers with babies in prison for early release back in March, the government sent a clear signal about the vulnerability of these groups during the pandemic and the need to take steps to protect their safety and well-being.

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