Steph's Place

21st January: Fighting for Pregnant Women in Prison

Motion: Women & Trans Men in Pregnancy within the Criminal Justice System.


Recently I was shocked to discover that some people see me as 'overly aggressive".

Determined, passionate and a 'bad loser' -  yep, I can relate to that; I don't fight to lose, and I know sometimes on Twitter as a TRA, I go too far.

I am a human being and make mistakes. 

Some people also query my Twitter bio, which reads: Post-op, Rad Fem, Trans Woman. She/her Labour LTE LWN calling out VAWG. Co-Editor of Steph's Place.....

But what is Radical Feminism? Well, Thought Co has this definition:

Radical feminism is a philosophy emphasising the patriarchal roots of inequality between men and women, or, more specifically, the social domination of women by men. Radical feminism views patriarchy as dividing societal rights, privileges, and power primarily along the lines of sex, and as a result, oppressing women and privileging men.

And to be frank, I am very embarrassed by the sex I was born into.

But like the colour of my skin, there is nothing much I can do about it other than what I have already done -  thanks to a surgeons knife, mutilate genitals. 

That's what makes me a "post-op trans woman," or in the old language, a "transsexual". 

But what about that "Rad Fem" label? 

What do I do? 

Well, hopefully, I do "my bit". 

I am active in "new approach" forum to combat Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG). And in my life, like so many women, I have suffered the effects of male violence.

I have suffered a physical attack on our streets, I was seriously sexually assaulted as a child - domestic violence? Yes, that too.

I know what it is like wondering if I was going to live or die - too frightened even to scream.  

I know what it is like to tell nurses, doctors and police officers my experiences... showing cuts and bruises, with uncontrollable tears flooding down my face.

I have been there and wear the T-Shirt.

And in the autumn of last year, something happened that I did not really expect - I could start to make a difference - a political difference.

I was asked to stand as the "Women's Officer" for my Constituency Labour Party, aka CLP.

At first, I was not too keen on the idea, I foresaw Twitter 'pile ons', hate mail and abuse, but that has not happened, nor do I hope it will in the future.

I am in my position to fight for women.

Nor can I be accused of 'taking a cisgender women's place' - as it happens, no one else wanted the job, so I was elected unopposed.

And last night was my first big test - to get a motion through my CLP, which I hope in time will become Labour Party policy - helping to protect pregnant women in pregnancy within the criminal justice system, along with their babies.

Few trans women like to advertise their past, principally for fear of doxing.

Still, the fact is I worked in the pregnancy, mother and baby sector for decades, assisting pregnant WAG's of England footballers together with some celebrities, working alongside children's charities and various health professionals.

Babies are my thing. 

And I know damn well that the last thing a woman needs when she is pregnant is to be locked up.

So when I accepted the post of Women's Officer last October I gave a speech this being part:

At this time, women are facing extraordinary pressures.

The pressure of covid...... the pressure of universal credit being cut .....the pressure that within society misogyny ... still exists.

I find it extraordinary that the government has said they will not make misogyny a hate crime and, even more remarkable, that a government minister, Dominic Rabb, clearly don’t even know what misogyny is!

Numerous topics swirl in feminism these days. Sexual harassment in the workplace never seems to go away neither do the gender pay-gap.

Women are disadvantaged in their careers because of pregnancy and family commitments.

Another issue that I feel we should look at is women in prisons. Only 4.6% of the prison population is women, many of whom on release are homeless, only to re-offend so to get a home.

Also, I lament the fact that pregnant women in prison are disadvantaged regarding the care for their baby. Babies are innocent human beings and should not be punished before starting life - several have died in prison, and there is certainly a case that pregnant mothers should not be in prison except in the most serious cases".

Before getting motions passed in my political party, there are speeches from a proposer and then a seconder - and then a vote of all the members.

This is what I said last night:

Early in the evening of Thursday, September 26th 2019….. an 18-year-old pregnant woman, who was on remand ..and now known as Ms A was locked into her cell at Her Majesty’s Prison Bronzefield.

At 8:07 pm, she pressed her alarm bell, requesting a nurse and pressed again at 8:32 - no one came and being in a single cell she had no one to help her.

Prisoner officers say they checked her cell twice in the night and saw nothing untoward.

Ms A was, in fact, on the floor of her cell..…in labour … excruciating pain.... unable to reach the emergency bell in her cell. She eventually passed out.

At 8.21 am on September 27th….. over 12 hours after Ms A had called for a nurse,….two prisoners alerted staff to blood in her cell.

Ms A had given birth ...but baby was not breathing.

Nurses attempted to resuscitate her baby – but baby had died.

Ms A was later taken by ambulance to hospital and returned to the prison that evening – she got no bereavement counselling.

She was released from prison on bail on October 17th - just three weeks after giving birth.

An investigation by the Prison and Probation Ombudsman was launched and subsequently reported numerous shortcomings in Ms A’s care and within prison procedures.

This included that there was no paediatric or neonatal emergency equipment in the prison,….. and … staff were trained in neonatal resuscitation.

The report concluded:

"We consider that all pregnancies in prison should be treated as high risk. The clinic-based community model of midwifery care is not appropriate to a custodial setting"

Sadly, this is not a one-off story.

On June 18th, 2020, Louise Powell, a first-time offender, gave birth at HMP Styal.

Louise had missed several periods, but prison nurses and doctors failed to check this out. Nor would it appear ….were all the standard health tests actioned …when Louise entered prison.

In consequence, Louise was not aware she was pregnant,…..she spent many hours in labour….she made three emergency calls begging for help - none of which were responded to……….. and then gave birth on the toilet.

Her baby, who was a breach was dead.

Louise subsequently named the newborn girl ..Brooke ….and it has been established that Brooke may have survived… if Louise had been cared for properly.

About 600 pregnant women enter UK prisons each year and statics prove… that Women self-harm at over double the rate of male prisoners. The difference is often associated to mothers concerned about loved ones......often kids ………..often babies.

A recent Freedom of Information Request proved that Women in prison are FIVE times more likely to have a stillbirth and twice as likely to give birth to a premature baby.

I have talked to three ex-offenders who will be meeting our Women’s Group in March. They told me that pregnant women in prison are invariably denied a good diet…….. and standard practice midwifery, often because of staff shortages.

I have also learnt about Women’s Centres in Plymouth & Sheffield that accept convicted pregnant women with remarkable results in turning lives around.

Many pregnant women prisoners report being kept in handcuffs while having scans and giving birth in hospitals.

Eleven countries, including Brazil, Mexico and Colombia, already have laws helping to prevent pregnant women from going to prison by use of deferred sentencing, house arrest and a multitude of other sanctions ….putting the child first.

Every baby…. deserves the right to live.

However, it is obvious… that the prison system cannot provide the same level of healthcare for pregnant women as available in general society.

In a party that supports human rights…… that supports… …babies, children and mothers ....I would ask you all ….to support this motion today.

Thank you.

And my seconder's speech (which was marginally changed by the speaker because of time issues) originally read this:

As we have heard …in September 2019, a woman held in HMP Bronzefield… on remand gave birth alone in her cell……the baby died.

This can only be described as an avoidable tragedy.

Responding to this event, Dr Rona Epstein, Honorary Research Fellow at the Law School at Coventry University……together with health professionals and academics…….. undertook their own investigation supported by the Oakdale Trust.

The purpose of the Coventry University investigation was to explore the reasons that the courts in England and Wales send pregnant women to prison.

The investigation results were released earlier this month ....and are consistent with many other investigations held in the past.

The investigation analysed 22 cases of pregnant women in prison - and looked at options and practices in other countries worldwide.

The case analysis was created with the help of Birth Companions…. a charity dedicated to helping pregnant women in prison.

The investigation covered:

(1) the offence (or alleged offence).
(2) the court or probation processes.
(3) health and circumstances before entering prison and during imprisonment.
(4) pregnancy and birth issues and the prison experience.

The investigation found that six pregnant women were recalled to prison during supervision by the probation service.

The most common offence was because of shoplifting……in total five women of the twenty-two cases analysed were shoplifters.

Four women were in prison for drugs offences. Other offences were fraud, perjury, robbery and affray.

All but two of the offences were non-violent.

Five of the women were sent to prison at a very late stage of pregnancy: three at 36 weeks, one at 35 weeks, and one at 30 weeks.

These women were all highly vulnerable, reflecting the state of social care in this country following over a decade… of Tory austerity.

Six women suffered from depression, sometimes very long-standing. Six others suffered from anxiety, and two had bipolar disorder.

Other serious illnesses these women suffered were pulmonary embolism, hepatitis C, and osteoarthritis. In short, around 70% of the women in this study had health issues.

Six reported drug addiction; three had been homeless for long periods. Four were the victims of domestic abuse and coercion.

Imprisonment for pregnant women is not necessary - it is a choice made by the legal system of each country.

Eleven countries (with a total population of about 646 million) do not permit the imprisonment of pregnant women, or severely curtail the use of custody.

They use options such as house arrest, care in the community, deferred sentencing, electronic monitoring or the use of probation.

Italy has enacted laws to protect pregnant women from entering prison, both on remand and on sentence.

There needs to be a complete rethink about the use of prisons - the current system is broken..... particularly broken for women. The starting position must be that no pregnant woman should be in custody.

It should also be noted that the cost to house just one prisoner in England and Wales is now estimated at over forty-four thousand pounds per year.

We should invest in people, not prison places.

If, for reasons of public protection, custody is considered unavoidable, the reasons must be stated and justified in open court.

To respect and protect the unborn child is of paramount importance in the criminal justice system of any civilised society.

The Tory plan to build up to 500 new prison places for women should be scrapped.

Some of the 150 million pounds set aside to build them should instead be used to increase funding for Women’s Centres and the probation service and to establish a network of non-punitive, supportive, caring residential facilities.

All pregnant women have the right to the same level of care irrespective of their location.

No court decision should endanger the life of an unborn baby ....all life is precious.

Babies have a right to life.

The motion before us tonight .... simply firms that right to life.

Please support this motion so we can then forward it for consideration at Women’s Conference.

Thank you.

Did my motion pass - which is a step (along with many campaigns by others) to ensure no pregnant woman, other than in the most serious criminal cases, go to prison?

Proudly, I can say it passed unanimously.

Authored by Steph @PlaceSteph

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