20.The Committee’s report from September 2019 on The right to family life: children whose mothers are in prison found that there is a complete lack of reliable quantitative data on the number of mothers in prison, the number of children whose mothers are in prison and the number of women who are pregnant and give birth in prison. The report identified a range of issues in relation to data collection in this area, including that:
i)aggregate data on the number of mothers in prison; the number of children whose mothers are in prison; and the number of women who are pregnant and give birth in prison, is not collated centrally or published. The estimates of the number of children whose mothers go to prison each year range widely, from 2,544 to 17,240.
ii)pre-Sentence Reports (PSRs), which are prepared by probation staff to provide information to the courts to assist them with sentencing, are not produced in all cases and so are unlikely to provide accurate information about the number of children who have a mother in prison or women in prison who have dependent children.
iii)women entering prison are not always asked whether they have dependent children by prison authorities.
21.The report said that without improved data collection it is impossible to understand the scale and nature of this issue and to properly address it and called on the Government to remedy this knowledge deficit urgently. Despite the Government’s commitment to improving data collection in this area, it is clear from evidence to this inquiry that very little progress had been made. The Minister for Prisons and Probation was not able to tell us how many children under the age of 18 are separated from their mother by their mother’s imprisonment:
“I think your Committee has picked up before that that is a difficult question to answer. There are various statistics over a number of years. You will know that that question should be answered at the pre-sentence report stage. I do not have a figure for it, because it is collected locally rather than nationally, but it is something that we can look at and consider how we might be able to collate it.”
22.The Minister told us about the Ministry of Justice’s work around improving data collection on pregnant women and new mothers in prison but could not tell us about any concrete proposals or work being done to improve data collection on the number of number of mothers in prison and the number of children whose mothers are in prison. The absence of an action plan for collecting this data is both disappointing and concerning because as stated previously, without having this information at an aggregate level, it is not possible to design or evaluate policies relating to women and children in this cohort or provide them with the necessary support during and after the mother’s sentence.
23.In the context of the pandemic, and the various restrictions in prisons introduced to control the spread of Covid-19, including the restrictions on visits, we consider it is more important than ever that the Ministry of Justice collect and publish data on the number of children whose mothers are in prison and the number of mothers in prison. This data must be collected immediately so that those affected can be provided with the necessary support. Further, as a matter of urgency, the Government must implement the recommendations from the Committee’s 2019 report that:
a)It should be made 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.
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38 [Lucy Frazer MP]
39 Before the coronavirus outbreak, the Ministry of Justice were undertaking a review of Mother and Baby Units which among other things was considering options for improving data collection on pregnant women and new mothers in prison
Published: 3 July 2020