As part of our work with the VCSE Health and Wellbeing Alliance, and in partnership with Nacro, Clinks represents the voluntary sector to highlight and challenge the health inequalities that are faced by people in contact with the criminal justice system. We align our work with the priorities that are outlined by NHS England, the Department for Health and Social Care, and Public Health England – including maternity and the best start in life.
Pregnancy and maternity in the criminal justice system
When we talk about pregnancy and maternity in the criminal justice system, our thinking tends to centre on prisons. There are just over 3000 women in prison in England as of October 2020, and it is estimated that approximately 600 pregnancies and 100 births occur annually in prison. Although improvements in the care of these women and their children are still needed, health and justice policy is becoming increasingly aware of and responsive to the needs of pregnant women and new mothers in prison. These developments have largely been driven by the voluntary sector.
In 2016, Birth Companions developed The Birth Charter – a set of recommendations for the care of pregnant women and new mothers in prison – in consultation with the charity’s service users and with guidance from the Royal College of Midwives and UNICEF’s UK Baby Friendly Initiative. This was followed by The Birth Charter Toolkit in 2019, a practical guide to help address the continuing gaps between policy and practice in this area. Both of these documents were consulted for the Ministry of Justice’s recent review of operational policy on pregnancy, Mother and Baby Units and maternal separation in prisons, published in July 2020, which is set to result in a new framework and guidance in the coming months.
What about women not in prison?
These policy developments are needed and welcome. But they got us thinking, what about the women who are pregnant or have recently given birth who are in contact with the criminal justice system but aren’t in prison? Those who may have been recently released under probation supervision, or those who are serving community sentences. What do we know about these women, their needs, and the services they receive from both statutory and voluntary sector organisations? We decided to work with Birth Companions to try answer these questions and help shape further improvements in the care of pregnant women and recent mothers in contact with the criminal justice system in the community.
Clinks and Birth Companions have now come together to launch a research project within what we see as a crucial window of opportunity.
We need expert help
We want to advocate for the vital delivery of statutory and voluntary sector services at this important time in the lives of women and their children. But to do this, we need expert help to fill the gaps in our knowledge. We need to hear from professionals and volunteers who have supported women serving community sentences or under probation supervision after leaving prison, whilst pregnant and/or in the two years after giving birth - whether they have their baby in their care or not.
You can help us in this research in two ways. You can share your views and experiences through our online survey, which closes on the 31st December. The results of this survey will give us an insight into the services that the voluntary sector delivers to pregnant women and recent mothers in the community; the areas of highest need for pregnant women and recent mothers; and how the sector engages with external partners when working with women in these circumstances.
Share your views
If you feel you have further knowledge to share, we are also running a series of focus groups in late November and early December. One of these focus groups will offer a space in which women with lived experience of pregnancy and recent motherhood in community criminal justice contexts can share their experiences and ideas. The others will allow people working and volunteering in the voluntary sector to discuss the support they offer in this area and the way they connect with other services around these women’s needs.
If you would like to participate in these focus groups, or can help us recruit women with lived experience from your own networks, please contact Zahra.firstname.lastname@example.org
At the end of this project we'll develop a report to share your views with decision-makers and influencers in the Ministry of Justice, Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, the Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England, through our regular engagement with government stakeholders and our continuous local work with probation services and other partners. The report will contain a series of recommendations for these stakeholders to demand better treatment for women in the justice system, some of which will be relevant to the voluntary sector.
Ultimately, we want to create a clearer picture of the needs of pregnant women and recent mothers in the community, and ensure that statutory health and justice as well as voluntary sector services are meeting their needs in the best way possible.
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Without support in the community, stricter curfews and increased tagging are likely to cause more people breaching the terms of their licence and returning to a prison system that is underfunded and overcrowded. Latest blog on the sentencing white paper https://www.clinks.org/community/blog-posts/sentencing-white-paper-alte…