UK

Pregnant prisoner numbers revealed after baby death

Women in prison Image copyright Andrew Aitchison / Getty Images
Image caption There were "fewer than five cases" where women have given birth in jail, the government said

The government has revealed there are currently 47 women in jails across England and Wales who are pregnant.

It's thought to be the first time that an official figure for prisoner pregnancies has been disclosed.

It follows the death of a newborn baby whose mother gave birth alone at HMP Bronzefield in Surrey, Britain's largest women's prison.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has introduced extra checks on pregnant women since the death of the baby in September.

It says there are now hourly "welfare observations" at night for women who are more than 28 weeks pregnant.

Justice Minister Lord Keen of Elie described the Bronzefield death as "tragic" and said the authorities were "intent on learning lessons".

Speaking in a House of Lords debate on Thursday, he said that last year there'd been "fewer than five cases" in which women had given birth in jail.

"Every step is taken for women to give birth in hospital but for a small number this is not possible due to the unpredictability of labour," said Lord Keen.

The MoJ says pregnant prisoners are seen by a midwife at least once a fortnight and have access to the "same range of services" as they would do in the community.

However, the department has not issued figures for how many female prisoners have had a baby in hospital, nor for the number of still-born babies or infant deaths.

Released before giving birth

It has also not revealed any further details about the 47 pregnant women who make up a small fraction of the 3,796 female prisoner population

Given security in prisons and restrictions on visits, it's thought that all, or the vast majority, will have conceived before entering custody.

Some are likely to leave jail before they give birth because they're serving short sentences.

Those who remain behind bars can apply for a place on a Mother and Baby Unit, but spaces are limited and are available only for the first 18 months of a child's life.

The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, Sue McAllister, is leading an over-arching investigation into what happened at Bronzefield and is expected to report back next year.

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