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Inquiry report published on children whose mothers are in prison

Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights report

13 September 2019
Inquiry report published on children whose mothers are in prison

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) has published the report of their inquiry The right to family life: children whose mothers are in prison. The inquiry consisted of a call for written evidence and four oral evidence hearings at which witnesses, including children and families affected by maternal imprisonment, academics, representatives of NGOs, the chairman of the Sentencing Council and government ministers, spoke. The MA gave oral evidence to the Committee, as well as providing a written response to the questions set by the inquiry, which can be found here.

The inquiry heard that an estimated 17,000 children each year are separated from their mothers when those mothers are sent to prison, and these children are more likely than their peers to have future problems, including an increased likelihood of offending, mental health problems and drug and alcohol addiction.

The JCHR states that when a custodial sentence is being considered for a mother, the impact on the rights of her children should be a central concern. According to the report, however, this is too frequently not the case and it proposes urgent reform to data collection, sentencing and support for children affected by imprisonment (including continued contact), as well as the need to consider appropriate pregnancy and maternity support for mothers in prison. Recommendations include:

  • The Ministry of Justice should urgently prioritise mandatory data collection and publish it.
  • If an offender is the mother or primary carer of a child, they must not be sentenced to imprisonment unless a pre-sentence report is available at the hearing.
  • A duty should be introduced to require the welfare of the child to be at the forefront of the sentencer's mind, and the impact of sentencing on children must be a specific consideration.
  • Kinship carers who step in to care for children when their mothers go to prison should be entitled to financial and practical support.
  • Ongoing contact between children and their mother, if they are imprisoned, should be focused on prioritising the best interests of the child, not dependent on their mother’s behaviour in prison.
  • If a baby is born while the mother is in prison, they should both be discharged from hospital directly to a Mother and Baby Unit.
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