Inspectorate report examines women in prison who have young children
The Office of the Inspectorate | Te Tari Tirohia has released a report into how pregnant women and those with children under 24 months are managed in New Zealand’s three women’s prisons.
“I commissioned this thematic inspection to review the operating environment in the Mothers with Babies units in the three women’s prisons,” said Chief Inspector Janis Adair. It is the first time the Inspectorate has reviewed the three Mothers with Babies units as a specific area of focus.
“It was also essential to examine the management of pregnant women in prison, those in prison with a child in the community, and opportunities for mothers with children in the community to maintain supportive parental relationships.”
Ms Adair was pleased to note that the women’s prisons provided comfortable environments for mothers to care for their young children, both for children who live in prison with their mother and for those who visit.
Children under 24 months can live with their mother in Mothers with Babies Units at all women’s prisons, while children who live in the community can visit their mother at dedicated feeding and bonding facilities.
“The facilities are welcoming but they appear to be underused, partly because of the limited information collected by Corrections about women and their children, when women are received into prison,” said Ms Adair.
“More could be done to fulfil the potential of both the Mothers with Babies units and the feeding and bonding facilities, to ensure that children with mothers in prison can develop and maintain attachments with all family and whānau members.”
The report found that generally pregnant women in prison receive the same standard of maternity care as they would in the community, and in some cases are seen more often by their midwife. Many pregnant women in prison had drug and alcohol issues, but limited support was offered to address this.
The report makes seven overarching recommendations, to improve the management of women in prison who have young children, along with 44 areas for Corrections to consider. The following are the recommendations:
- Corrections must develop a Practice Centre* setting out guidance for the management of women who reside in a Mothers with Babies unit, are pregnant or who have children in the community under 24 months, from when they arrive at prison through to when they are released.
- Corrections must ensure better collection of information about women who arrive at site with children under 24 months in the community, having regard to the privacy interests of the children.
- Corrections must better support women to maintain relationships with their children in the community, including both in-person visits and telephone and video calls.
- Corrections must better support, including through welfare checks, women who return to prison from hospital having miscarried, terminated a pregnancy or who have given birth where the child remains in the community.
- Corrections must develop criteria for selecting those staff most suitable for working in the Mothers with Babies unit, and appropriate training package for staff in the unit, and ensure that all staff who work in the unit have completed this and ongoing training.
- Corrections must develop and implement an assurance framework to ensure its policies for pregnant women and women with children under 24 months are being consistently applied across all three women’s sites.
- Corrections must consider how comparable overseas jurisdictions manage visits for children, and consider the report of the Ministerial Committee of Inquiry into the Prison System, Te Ara Hou: the New Way, including the recommendation for visiting centres for children up to the age of five, and that assistance with transport and accommodation be provided across the entire prison network.
The Inspectorate welcomes the response from the Department of Corrections and its commitment to implement the recommendations of this report and ensure it gives careful attention to the 44 areas for consideration in line with future work programmes.
* A ‘one stop shop’ on Corrections' intranet which brings together policy, guidance and tools.