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An unfair sentence - All Babies Count: Spotlight on the criminal justice system

• Pregnancy and babyhood are a time of major developmental significance. For babies to have a healthy and safe start in life, the following key ingredients are needed:

• A healthy pregnancy: Development before birth is the basis for what happens next, so maternal mental and physical health in pregnancy are crucially important for babies’ later wellbeing and development.

• Healthy early relationships: Babies need their caregivers to provide sensitive, responsive and consistent care.

• Effective care and support for the caregivers: Parents themselves need respectful care and help in overcoming some of the problems they may face, so that they have the emotional resources to care for their baby.

• A safe and stimulating environment: Babies need to be in a safe and stimulating environment that supports them to learn and explore.

• If babies do not receive this care, it can have long term adverse effects on their physical, social and emotional development.

• Babies who are affected by parental offending and the criminal justice system often encounter risks that could affect their care and development. This occurs for a number of reasons. Firstly, those involved in the criminal justice system often have additional needs, such as poor mental health, that can impact on the care a baby receives. Secondly, the criminal justice system can disrupt relationships, particularly if parents and infants are separated. Thirdly, the physical incarceration of pregnant women and babies in Mother and Baby Units can impact on the health and wellbeing of infants.

• Pregnancy and birth are a time when people often feel motivated to make changes in their lives and by intervening at this important time we can not only improve outcomes for the most disadvantaged children, but also support parents’ desistance from offending. Prison gives a chance to engage and support mothers and fathers who, because of the difficulties in their lives, are often described as ‘hard to reach’.

• Astonishingly, there is no official estimate of the number of infants affected by the criminal justice system and there has been very little UK research on the impact of the criminal justice system on infant care arrangements and relationships.

• Awareness in services that an infant is affected by parental offending and the criminal justice system tends to be very low. Universal health and early years services will not necessarily be aware that a baby has a parent in prison, and community criminal justice agencies working with offenders will not necessarily be aware that someone is a parent.

• For the majority of babies, alternative care arrangements are made whilst their mothers serve custodial sentences. This means there are reduced opportunities for the baby and mother to bond and for an attachment to form. Dependent on circumstances, the mother may or may not be reunified with her baby after her release. If she is reunified with her infant, he or she may now be attached to another care giver, an attachment which would then be disrupted.

• Across the UK prison estate there are currently 8 Mother and Baby Units (MBUs), 6 in England and 2 in Scotland, and 2 Mother and Baby rooms in Northern Ireland. For those who are pregnant or who remain with their infant in MBUs, there is evidence to suggest that they do not receive the same quality of perinatal healthcare as those living in the community.

• There remain pressing questions about how best to meet the social, psychological and emotional needs of infants when their mothers are incarcerated. While MBUs may reduce the trauma of separation for children, it may mean living in an environment that is detrimental to child development.

• There are examples of promising practice in which the needs of pregnant women, parents and infants are identified and met, and we present these in Part Two of the report. However, there is inconsistent access to this support and many services and programmes