The right to family life: children whose mothers are in prison Contents
101.There are reasons to be optimistic for the many thousands of children whose rights to family life are put at risk each year when their mothers go to prison. High quality academic research and reports from non-governmental organisations in recent years have focused renewed attention on the issue, steps have been taken to prompt sentencers to take dependent children into account in their decision-making and work is underway to strengthen relationships between prisoners and their families. However, the evidence we have gathered leads us to the conclusion that these steps alone are insufficient. In this report we have set out the case for a number of fundamental reforms that are necessary to protect the rights of children whose mothers go to prison. Urgent changes are required in four areas:
- Data Collection: it is essential to know how many children and mothers are affected when mothers go to prison. Mandatory data collection and publication as detailed in Chapter 3 must be prioritised by the Ministry of Justice.
- Sentencing: judges must, apart from in exceptional circumstances, have pre-sentence reports available to them to be able to assess the impact of custodial sentence on a dependent child and hear directly from children, where appropriate. Dependent children should also be given greater visibility in the sentencing framework by introducing a duty, reflecting existing case law, requiring that the welfare of the child be at the forefront of the judge’s mind and the impact of sentencing on children be a distinct consideration to which full weight must be given by the courts.
- Support for children whose mothers go to prison: the Department for Education, working closely with the Ministry of Justice, must revise the framework for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children so that much greater attention is paid to the needs of children and their families when mothers go to prison.
- Pregnancy and maternity: separating a baby from its mother is a serious interference with the right to family life. If a baby is born during the mother’s sentence, they should both be discharged from hospital directly to an MBU, other than in exceptional circumstances When a baby is born shortly before the mother’s sentence begins, the sentence should only in exceptional circumstances start before a place is secured in an MBU.
102.We expect the Government to act swiftly in each of these four areas, in order to prevent another generation of children suffering irreparable harm when their mothers go to prison.