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Campaigners demand end to preventable deaths of babies in prisons

CAMPAIGNERS called for an end to the preventable deaths of babies in prison today on the first anniversary of a newborn baby’s death at HMP Bronzefield. 

Prisoner Solidarity Network (PSN), a group of ex-prisoners, prisoners, campaigners and academics, called for the end of the imprisonment of pregnant women and the avoidable deaths of babies in prison. 

Despite the government promising their release at the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, pregnant women remain in prison facing a life-threatening situation, the group warned.

In the past year, two babies have died in the British prison system. In September 2019, a newborn baby died in Bronzefield, Middlesex, while another died in HMP Styal, Cheshire, in June. 

In both cases, the mothers gave birth in prison cells rather than in hospital. 

PSN said that Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service and the Ministry of Justice have refused to release information publicly about why the mothers were not taken to hospital, despite being in labour. 

The campaign group warned that the deaths, and the resulting trauma for the families of the babies, could have been prevented with appropriate support and access to healthcare, which prisons do not have.

PSN is calling for the immediate release of all pregnant women from prison and for measures to be put in place to prevent the imprisonment of those who are pregnant. 

In March, the government promised to grant temporary release to pregnant women in prison, subject to risk assessment, as they are clinically vulnerable to Covid-19. 

Of the seventy eligible people under 20 have been released, PSN warned.
 
PSN spokeswoman Heledd Williams, who initiated the coalition, said: “We are outraged and heartbroken by the continued lack of government action on the life-threatening conditions of pregnant people and their children in prison. 

“These are preventable deaths that cannot continue. The pandemic offers an opportunity for an overhaul of policy towards pregnant people in prison; the government has already acknowledged that it is not a safe environment for pregnant people and must act to prevent a continued loss of life.”

The campaign group is demanding that pregnant prisoners and those in mother and baby units are provided with adequate housing and support on release.

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