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Ministers must stop locking up pregnant women, charities urge

A harrowing report into the death of a baby at HMP Bronzefield revealed the mother had given birth alone in her cell

PREGNANT women should be spared jail, charities said today after a harrowing report into the death of a baby in prison exposed that the mother had given birth alone in her cell. 

The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman’s damning report into the death at HMP Bronzefield, in Middlesex, found a catalogue of failings among health and prison staff. 

The 18-year-old, known as Ms A, and her lifeless child were not discovered for a full 12 hours after she initially called for a nurse in September 2019, the watchdog said. 

Ombudsman Sue McAllister said the mother should never have been allowed to give birth without medical assistance at the privately run jail, the biggest women’s prison in Europe. 

Her findings, published today, identified a series of failures in the way she was treated and gives a string of recommendations to all agencies involved including the prison and Ashford and St Peter’s Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

The report found that Ms A had pressed the bell twice at around 8pm and asked for a nurse, but no-one came. She described being in “constant pain” and passing out. When she woke up her daughter had been born but was “purple and not breathing.” 

The report said she “managed to bite through the umbilical cord” before wrapping up her baby in the towel. 

Prison staff did not discover what had happened until after 8am the following day. Ambulance crews were called but the child could not be saved.

Ms A was behind bars for the first time, facing a charge of robbery and had a difficult childhood, the report said. While in prison she had refused to engage with most antenatal care services, fearing her baby would be taken away from her. 

Responding to the report, Women In Prison chief executive Dr Kate Paradine said the government must stop putting new mothers and pregnant women behind bars. 

“Every child deserves to get the best start in life but that will never be in prison,” she said. 

Echoing the call, Howard League for Penal Reform chief executive Frances Crook said: “The key lesson from the investigation into the death of a baby in Bronzefield prison is that pregnant women should not be held in prison, it’s not safe for them or their babies.”

Prison director Vicky Robinson and hospital trust chief executive Suzanne Rankin both said they were “deeply sorry” for the death and vowed that improvements were being made.

Charity Inquest said the findings “reflect the broader issues of systemic neglect of women’s health, shown by ever rising self-harm and continued deaths of women in prison.” 

“Yet still the government plans to build 500 more prison places for women, when the reality is that this could happen again tomorrow,” the charity’s director Deborah Coles added. 


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