|Credit: Prison Reform Trust|
Many years ago, fellow journalist Loren Stein and I worked with the Center for Investigative Reporting in San Francisco on a year-long investigation into the alarming number of miscarriages among pregnant women in US prisons and jails. Packed into routinely overcrowded, understaffed and ill-equipped facilities, pregnant inmates were often denied essential pre-natal and emergency care. As a result, more than 30 percent of the imprisoned pregnant mothers lost their babies – in one prison, it was 80%.
We found that because women formed a small proportion of the US prison population, the system was generally ill prepared and ill equipped to look after them - and there was very little thought about the impact their incarceration had on their families.
A couple of decades later and on the other side of the pond, it looks like little progress has been made:
A day-long conference at Northumbria University, Newcastle, this Thursday (11 December), will address why prison doesn’t work for women.
Former prisoners, prison reform campaigners and criminologists will examine the impact that imprisonment has on women and their families. They will also discuss effective alternatives to imprisonment that could help solve the problem of increasing reoffending rates for women.
Keynote speakers include Vicky Pryce, who served a prison sentence for perverting the course of justice and has recently authored Prisonomics, a book calling for reform for women prisons; Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Vera Baird; and Jenny Earle, director of the Prison Reform Trust’s programme to reduce women’s imprisonment.
“Women are mainly imprisoned for low level crimes, such as theft or handling stolen goods, which are often linked to their domestic situation. When men are imprisoned there is often a network of women – mothers, girlfriends, wives – who are caring for their children, paying the bills, and keeping their lives going so that they can more easily slip back into their family life when they are released. When women come out of prison they need support to rebuild their lives.”
Ridley argues that there is greater cost to the state when women are imprisoned as there is often the need to support their children in care during the custodial sentence. There also appears to be a larger domino effect when women with families are sent to prison.
“Studies have found that children with mothers in prison are more likely to go on to offend than those with just the father in prison.”
The event is organised by The Centre for Offenders and Offending at Northumbria University, NEPACS, a regional charity providing support to prisoners and their families, the Prison and Offender Research in Social Care and Health Network (PORSCH), and OpenGate, a charity providing mentoring and support to women offenders returning to their community.
You can follow the conference on Twitter: @PrisonNU & #wiprison