Irish Penal Reform Trust

UK: “Maternal Imprisonment Polling Shows Clear Support for Better Services in the Community”

28th September 2021

Crest Advisory are a UK-based criminal justice strategy and communications consultancy firm, who recently polled 2,500 members of the British public in order to assess attitudes regarding maternal imprisonment. This is one part of a wider research project Crest is undertaking on ‘Counting the Cost of Maternal Imprisonment’. The polling analysis draws attention to the national debate sparked by the death of a baby in HMP Bronzefield in 2019, and the promise by the Ministry of Justice to provide 500 new prison places for women in an attempt to improve conditions. This has been criticised as it does not tie in with the goal of reducing incarceration rates. 

One of the most intriguing results of the poll was that 56% of those surveyed believed that the funding for 500 new prison places should be redirected to fund support services for women instead. This combats the narrative that the public want politicians to be ‘tough on crime’. 

It was also found that 58% believed that mothers should only be imprisoned for non-violent offences if there were no other options, even though 72% of women sentenced to prison in 2020 were there for non-violent offences. In addition to this, there was significant support for more community mechanisms being put in place to allow for the development of children whose mothers are in prison, including counselling services and care allowances. 

Of note in the article was an analysis of the non-violent crimes women are disproportionately charged with; including child truancy (71% of all convictions for this in 2019 were women), and TV License charges (74% of all convictions for this in 2019 were women). Therefore, it is clear that a large proportion of women are being imprisoned for non-violent offences, even though the public may disagree. 

Polling found that there is strong support from the public for an improved community response to maternal imprisonment, with three quarters of people (74%) agreeing that schools should be informed when a pupil’s mother is imprisoned. A similar proportion agreed that counselling should be offered to the children (72%) and that financial support should be offered to their carers (62%). In Piecing it Together, IPRT recommend a charter of rights for children with a family member in prison to be implemented, along with increased service provision - including psychological support - for children affected. 

The article ultimately recommends a “holistic community-based approach” to dealing with women offenders, which targets the main drivers of offending in women such as sexual and domestic violence, debt, and poverty in general.  

IPRT maintain its policy towards prison as a last resort, with the Law Reform Commission also recommending that it be a mitigating factor in sentencing hearings that a potential prisoner has dependent children or is pregnant. 

Read the article in full here


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