The right to family life: children whose mothers are in prison Contents

3Data

23.Accurate, reliable and accessible data on the number of mothers with dependent children in prison who go to prison each year and the number of children affected by this is not available.

Available information

24.The table below sets out a sample of the estimates that have been made of the number of mothers and children affected. These have been made using a variety of methodologies and by a range of organisations including the Ministry of Justice, the prisons inspectorate and NGOs. The estimates of the number of children whose mothers go to prison each year range from 2,544 to 17,240.

Table 1: Estimates of the number of mothers with dependent children who go to prison and children whose mothers are sent to prison each year.

SOURCE

Estimate of number of mothers (with dependent children) who go to prison each year26

Estimate of number of children whose mothers go to prison each year27

Data matching exercise using Ministry of Justice and Department of Work and Pensions information (2012)28, 29

1,344

2,544

Prison Inspectorate prisoner survey responses (2016/17)30

4,536

8,618

Ministry of Justice response to parliamentary question asked by B. Fall (2018)31

5,292

10,055

The Howard League for Penal Reform research (2010)32

4,200

17, 24033

25.As part of our own evidence gathering for this inquiry the Committee submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to all the prisons holding women in the UK and asked how many women were held and how many of those have children under the age of 18, as at 1 February 2019. We also asked how many of those were serving:

i)custodial sentences for non-violent offences;

ii)custodial sentences of more than three months;

iii)custodial sentences of more than six months; and

iv)custodial sentences of more than 12 months.

26.We received aggregated responses from the Ministry of Justice, the Scottish Prison Service and from the Northern Ireland Prison Service, all of which stated that while the information did exist, it was not collated centrally, and it would therefore be disproportionately costly to provide it. This confirmed our view that this is a very serious knowledge deficit that must be urgently addressed.34

Information on pregnancy and births in prison

27.No official figures are gathered or published on the number of pregnant women in prison. However, it is estimated that around 600 women receive antenatal care in prison and 100 women give birth in custody every year in England.35

28.We attempted to verify these figures by making a Freedom of Information Act request to all the prisons holding women in the UK, asking them how many prisoners gave birth whilst serving a custodial sentence in 2018. The Northern Ireland Prison Service was able to tell us that no women gave birth at the women’s prison in Northern Ireland in 2018 and the Scottish Prison Service told us that the number of women who gave birth whilst serving their custodial sentence in 2018 was 7 (5 from HMP & YOI Cornton Vale and 2 from HMP & YOI Grampian). All these women gave birth in hospital. However, the Ministry of Justice again stated that while the information did exist, it was not collated centrally and it would therefore be disproportionately costly to provide it.36

Data collection

29.It is not clear from the evidence we have received whether women entering prison are always asked whether they have dependent children. While some witnesses indicated that the question was asked on reception into prison37 others said this was not routinely the case.38 The number of children field is not a mandatory field within the NOMIS prison record system.

30.Data ought also to be available from Pre-Sentence Reports (PSRs) which are prepared by probation staff to provide information to the courts to assist them with sentencing These reports are supposed to highlight the fact an offender has dependent children, where this is known.39 However, there has been a reduction in the number of new PSRs produced; only 144,000 were delivered in 2016–17, compared to 184,000 in 2012–13, a fall of 22%.40 There has been a corresponding increase over the same period in the number of sentences passed (both community sentences and custody) where no new PSR has informed sentencing.41 This source is therefore unlikely to be able to provide accurate information about the number of children who have a mother in prison or mothers in prison who have children.

31.In the Farmer Review for Women, Lord Farmer proposes the introduction of a Personal Circumstances File which would contain information about a women’s caring responsibilities and personal circumstances, collected from the first interaction with the criminal justice system.42 This file would be available on an information-sharing platform to allow a range of agencies to access appropriate levels of information about a woman at risk of offending. It would also assist in assessing the appropriate level of support for women. However, there also needs to be a way of ensuring that aggregate information about the number of mothers in prison and the number of children affected is quickly and routinely available. It may be that such files will provide an accurate source of data; but if not, other ways of collecting this information will be needed.

Disclosure

32.It was repeatedly put to us that a major obstacle in improving data collection is the fact that mothers are often reluctant to disclose that they have children, possibly because of concerns they may receive a harsher sentence or that their children will be taken into care, if they do.43 This orthodoxy was challenged by Dr Shona Minson from Oxford University, who felt that although women may be reluctant to say in open court that they have children, if taken aside by a probation officer for a private discussion “very few women hold that information back, because usually they are fairly desperate about what is going to happen to their children.”44

Conclusion

33.It is essential to know whether a child has a mother in prison and whether a woman in prison has children. Firstly, without this knowledge at aggregated level it is impossible to design strategic policies or to evaluate their effectiveness. Secondly, the prison authorities need to know that an individual mother is separated from her children. It is also important sentencers and other relevant authorities, including children’s services and schools can be made aware that a child is separated from their mother. (How information could be shared is discussed in Chapter 5).

34.The lack of reliable quantitative data on the number of children whose mothers are in prison and the number of mothers in prison is unacceptable. While we welcome the proposal in the Farmer Review for Women of a Personal Circumstances File, without improved data collection, collation and publication it will continue to be impossible to fully understand the scale and nature of this issue and to properly address it. As a matter of urgency, the Government must remedy this situation by:

a)Making it mandatory to ask all woman entering prison whether they have dependent children and what their ages are. This information should then be verified by cross-referencing it with child benefit data.

b)Carrying out an annual census in prisons in which women are asked whether they have dependent children and what their ages are.

c)Collating and publishing this data.


26 These figures have been calculated using the estimated percentage of female prisoners with dependent children given in each source report. In 2017 the Ministry of Justice estimated that there were approximately 8, 400 first receptions of women to prison. A comparable figure for other years is not available. However, the figure does not appear to have changed radically over the period from 2010 – 2018 so this figure has been used for each year to calculate the number of mothers who go to prison each year.

27 These figures have been calculated by multiplying the estimated of number of mothers (with dependent children) who go to prison each year by 1.9, which is the average number of children per women given in the 2011 census.

28 Ministry of Justice, Female offenders and child dependents, 8 October 2015

29 The report finds that between 13% and 19% of all female offenders sentenced to immediate custody for criminal offences in 2012 had one or more child dependents. To calculate the figures given in this table the midpoint of this range (16%) has been used.

31 PQ HL8901 [Prisoners: Females], 25 June 2018. As there is no functionality to record the age of children on NOMIS it is not clear whether these are dependent children or not.

32 The Howard League for Penal Reform, Voice of a Child, 2018

33 This is the figure given in the report, it is not known how it was arrived at.

34 Freedom of Information Act - Responses

35 The Royal College of Midwives (CMP0008)

36 Freedom of Information Act - Responses

37 Q29 [Stuart Harrington]

38 Q19 [Dr Shona Minson]

39 Ministry of Justice (CMP0014) para.22

40 The National Probation Service’s guidance on PSRs recommends that a report can be re-used if the offender is sentenced for a new offence up to a year after the previous report was produced (though care should be taken when using reports more than six months old).

41 The Centre for Justice Innovation, The changing use of pre-sentence reports, July 2018. The reason is for the reduction is not clear, though one possible reason may be the new National Probation Service policy of reusing existing PSRs for subsequent convictions up to a year after the report was first submitted. However, the trend predates the introduction of this guidance.

43 For example Ministry of Justice (CMP0014), Prison Reform Trust (CMP0011) and Lucy Baldwin (CMP0007)

44 Q21 [Dr Shona Minson]




Published: 9 September 2019