1.The current lack of meaningful contact between mothers in prison and their dependent children due to the suspension of visits to prison risks breaching both groups’ right to private and family life. The Government must not impose blanket restrictions on visiting rights. In order to comply with Article 8 ECHR, they must ensure that any restriction on visiting rights is necessary and proportionate in each individual case. Children must be allowed to visit their mothers in prison on a socially distanced basis, where it is safe for them to do so. (Paragraph 11)
2.The Government must immediately and as announced temporarily release from prison all remaining pregnant women and those in Mother and Baby Units, and all mothers with dependent children and who are within two months of their release date who have been appropriately risk assessed, to ensure those mothers can be with their children while opportunity for physical contact is limited during these unprecedented times. The Government should consider extending its current policy to temporarily release prisoners who are pregnant or in Mother and Baby Units to all mothers of dependent children where the mothers have been individually risk-assessed as posing no, or low, risk to public safety. (Paragraph 19)
3.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.
b)An annual census must be carried out in all prisons in which women are asked whether they have dependent children and what their ages are.
c)This data must be collated and published. (Paragraph 23)
4.All prisoners, both men and women, should be able to attend funerals virtually where a close family member has died. In order to comply with the right to respect for private and family life, the authorities must assess each request to attend a funeral (whether in person of virtually) on its merits. Where it is not possible to attend in person, arrangements for virtual attendance should be facilitated. This is important to ensure that prisoners are able to grieve and to participate in funerals as far as possible during the pandemic. The Ministry of Justice should carry out a check to ensure all prisons are able to join funerals of close family members virtually. (Paragraph 25)
Published: 3 July 2020