The conditions in prison may no longer be Dickensian but young mothers are still going to jail for the same reasons they were in Victorian times: poverty, debt, addiction and mental illness.
In yesterday’s Guardian, Juliet Lyon set out the case for moving many women out of the prison system.
The most illuminating parts of this article are the quotes from young mothers in jail, from a Prison Reform Trust report. For example:
If there was a place between a prison and a home – but not a hostel – somewhere where people could help and teach you real things so you can live and not have your baby taken away. It might help stop girls doing drugs or stealing or whatever. Somewhere that was clean and like a home. I would like that.
Why are so many women – including pregnant women and new mothers – in prison?
As the government’s Corston review found last year, many of these women are damaged individuals who pose no risk to the public. Over a third of women in prison have no previous convictions – more than double the figure for men. The review confirmed what anyone who’s been inside a women’s prison will tell you, many women prisoners become trapped in a cycle of deprivation, domestic violence, drug abuse and crime that the prison system is failing to break. The Ministry of Justice has to come to terms with the inconvenient truth that most women in prison have been both perpetrators and victims of crime.
Sidenote: Last month, This American Life reported on an extremely affecting story of one young woman who got herself locked up in prison so she could be with her mother – who is serving a long sentence.