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Staying together: mothers and babies in prison

02 July 2019
Volume 27 · Issue 7



Many women in prison are mothers and an increasing number are pregnant. These women face the harsh reality of potentially being separated from their babies or children, which can have detrimental effects on both the mother and the child.


To review the literature surrounding the impact of mothers and children staying together in a prison environment.


The review focused on papers from the past 9 years and included mothers whose children resided with them in prison, and mothers who had been separated from their babies after giving birth in prison. Three articles were identified: two qualitative studies based on interviews with imprisoned mothers, and one quantitative study into re-offending rates of women who had been released from a prison nursery programme.


Keeping their babies and mother together in a prison environment resulted in a positive outcome, particularly for the mothers. However, when thinking about the welfare of the child, there need to be sufficient opportunities to allow for their physical, social and emotional development. The common themes that emerged during this literature review were: low re-offending rates, motherhood producing motivation for change, and the effect of staying together on maternal and child wellbeing.


This review highlighted the need for further studies, especially focusing on prisons in the UK.

The number of women imprisoned across the world is increasing. According to the World Female Imprisonment List, the number of female prisoners has increased worldwide by 53% since 2000 (Walmsley, 2017), with many of these women having dependent children (Epstein, 2014). This rise has been attributed to a change in sentencing, as many imprisoned women are on remand or serving short sentences for non-violent crimes (Prison Reform Trust, 2016). This therefore increases the possibility of childbirth during a prison sentence, with the risk of mother and baby being separated. This also affects mothers who already have young families, as evidence suggests that only 1 in 20 children with imprisoned mothers are cared for in the family home (Beresford, 2018). According to Birth Companions, a charity that works with women and babies in prison (Birth Companions, 2019), around 100 babies in England and Wales are born to women in prison every year (Kennedy et al, 2016). In the UK, women make up approximately 5% of the total prison population (Sturge, 2018), one of the highest rates of women in prison in western Europe (Prison Reform Trust, 2017).

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