Sentencing reforms under review for pregnant prisoners
Alice Gregory – 6 November 2023
The Sentencing Council, which is responsible for monitoring and updating the guidelines on trial sentencing, is currently reviewing the process for pregnant offenders. Recent data obtained by The Observer has shown that, between April 2022 and March 2023, there were almost 200 pregnant women recorded in prisons in England and Wales, with 44 babies were born to imprisoned women. Right now, a third of pregnant prisoners are being held in custody awaiting trial or sentencing (otherwise known as being held on remand).
Campaign organisations – such as Level Up, which supports gender justice in the UK – claim that the current system does not sufficiently protect pregnant women. The official guidelines only state that judges will ‘consider’ pregnancy when deciding whether to hold people on remand, but campaigners argue that many do not. That said, the Ministry of Justice claims that there are systems in place to ensure pregnant inmates are properly supported, such as additional welfare checks and liaison officers. Despite this, in a recent inquest, ‘serious failures’ were found to have been the cause of the death of Aisha Cleary, who died shortly after being born in prison in 2019. Her mother, Rianna, had repeatedly called for assistance at the time, but it did not arrive until more than half a day later, after the baby had passed.
Sources have suggested that all prison pregnancies are high risk due to a lack of access to proper medical assistance and food, as well as the mere fact of being confined to a cell. Pregnant women in prison are also reportedly seven times more likely to suffer a stillbirth than those outside of prison, and campaigners argue that babies should not be put at risk by the system. In the light of this, suggested reforms include additional guidelines for judges and prosecutors when deciding whether or not to imprison pregnant offenders. Furthermore, some have advised adapting the Bail Act 1976 to increase pregnant women’s right to bail. Although the Sentencing Council’s examination will not fully wrap up until next year, they will have to balance these considerations with the need to punish criminals in line with the law.