Should a baby join its mother in prison?

I wanted to write ‘a lovely young girl named Stephanie’, then I realised that I am old and she is no longer the little girl who once lived two doors down from me. She is now a beautiful young lady and has, gulp, a child of her own.

So, I’ll recommence:

Yesterday evening, I spotted a very interesting discussion on Facebook started by Stephanie, a gorgeous new mother.

She asked (and I quote): “Should mums in prison be allowed to have their babies in there with them?”

I must admit to being divided on this one. I don’t like the thought of children starting their lives in prison, but on the other hand, as a mum myself, I can see that babies need their mothers.

Where do you stand? Are you you totally against babies joining their mothers in prison? What if the woman was pregnant when she was convicted? Does it depend on the crime she committed? Does it depend on what led her to her crime? Is early life in prison a negative start for a child?

I am looking forward to reading your responses!


35 thoughts on “Should a baby join its mother in prison?”

  1. So long as it’s not drug or child abuse related, then yes, but not for long. And not ‘joining’ – only if it is born in prison. Long enough for a bond to be formed; maybe a month or so. For the good of the baby.

    Fathers are deprived of their children because they have committed a crime; why should mothers be any different?

    1. I definitely agree that drug or child abuse related is a no.

      Do you think it’s good though, for the baby to bond with the mother and then be taken away, if she say, is in for a long sentence? Would it not then be better to bond with a foster/adoptive parent or another family member?

      My mother went into hospital when my sister was 6 weeks old and it was so traumatic for my sister, she tore her hair out and had a significant bald patch on her head for about a year.

      I also agree about fathers.

      1. If the mother has comitted a crime and is in for a long sentence then no she’s forfited her right. The child’s welfare has to come first and prison is NOT the place to bring up a child how ever well meaning.

      2. I have very mixed feelings on the subject. But I am pulled towards prison not being the right place for a baby too. Isn’t it a bad start to life?

  2. Tilly raises a really good point here re: the dads. however if a child is breast fed then it is a mute point really. I think it should be more case by case as opposed to a direct ruling.


    1. You could comment. Yay!!

      Breastfeeding is a big issue for me too. However, I’m concerned about drugs. Many start taking drugs in prison or go back to drugs. Meaning they might not fit Tilly’s drug abuse related argument, but may now be taking drugs. And if there would be an extra allowance for breastfeeders I would guess that breastfeeding would increase. Good on one hand. But on the other, those taking drugs would then pass them on to their baby.

      I think case by case is the way to go.

  3. As much as I am an advocate for breastfeeding and for bonding between Mother and baby, these feelings are outweighed by simple fact that prisons are not an environment suitable for babies and small children.

    I find that one tough question leads to another tough question and in the end is it really in the best interests of the child? (rather than the best interests/wants of the mother)
    If a baby is born in prison, and *could* stay…how long would it stay? isn’t taking it away from it’s mother when it is month old, or 3 or 6 or 9 months or 2 years old also traumatic?

    Newborn babies are very attuned to the atmosphere around them, and a prison environment is one of punishment for adults for proven reasons, so hardy an ideal or child friendly place.

    I know it will sound harsh but a pregnant mother who commits crimes serious enough to warrant incarceration are *already* not putting their babies first, so why would they have the right to have their child with them?

    I worked full time and breastfed until my two were 14 months and 9 months old respectively (I was forced to stop early with the second because I needed a hospital operation that required drugs incomparable to breastfeeding).. for the rest of the time I expressed milk at work and took it home and froze it, I built up a supply and they drank thawed/heated breast milk at daycare from a bottle and I breastfed as usual with them at night. so ok, the “bond” bit would be missing but that’s the fault of the mother and not the baby.

    If a supply of frozen breast milk could be delivered to the babies carers, then the breastfeeding issue is mostly solved and then I think the baby would get a far better start in life in a stable loving environment with a family, be it with foster parents, extended family etc.

    Arguing for having a baby with you in prison is like wanting your cake and eating it too as far as the mother is concerned… but you can’t simply get both and my opinion is that it’s not reasonable to demand or argue that you should.

    In committing crimes punishable by law, any parent sets in motion a long list of consequences for their actions and part of this cost is that they pay the price of loosing access to their children. To do otherwise means that some children could be raised partly or wholly in a prison environment and surely no child deserves that ?

    1. I too, find one tough question leads to another, but that’s exactly why I found this a great discussion topic.

      I like your point ‘a pregnant mother who commits crimes serious enough to warrant incarceration are *already* not putting their babies first’. But could it be that she commits a crime in order to give her child a better chance?

      I think, for me, personally, one of my problems with answering this question is trying to imagine the circumstances the woman was in in the first place, to end up committing a crime that lands her in prison.

      I too, am in favour of protection of the child. I don’t think prison is the right place for a baby or an older child.

      If I Google the subject, lots of information comes up to support mothers keeping their babies in prison because it lowers the risk of them re-offending. Great. But, what I would like to know is, having started their life in prison would the child be more or less likely to offend themselves? How does it shape their lives?

    1. I think that’s a good point Dienna. I think we see keeping the baby in prison as a punishment for the baby. I guess advocates of the policy see the punishment as separating the baby from the mother.

  4. See I find this one really hard. Initially I don’t believe its a place for babies full stop, but then I consider how many crimes may be because a mother is trying to provide for her child (granted it may be misguided and in the wrong way)
    Some of you are saying no the child should not be with the mother because the mother committed the crime not the child, on the same hand the child should not suffer from separation because of the mothers crimes either.
    I haven’t really answered the question at all have I?

    1. I think the question is really hard to answer, isn’t it? (The exact reason I set it up for discussion ;-))

      To be honest, I’m glad I’m not in charge of the decision!!

      There are so many different reasons for a mother ending up in prison. I read an article recently discussing about a mother in prison with her 10 month old. She was there because she was caught with marijuana in her bag. She was caught with the drugs while she was pregnant and so I’m thinking that she’s not really putting her child first!! To top it the article stated that the father was in prison on drugs charges. I’m thinking, what chance does that child really have in life?

      On the other hand like you, I could imagine circumstances of someone doing something quite misguided. But with good intentions. I more think those people need support…

      I can’t answer my own question!!

  5. If the mother can have the child with her the chances of having a good mother/ baby bonding will be raised and this will improve the chances for the child in the future in shorter term prison sentences. With the right prison approach to parenting classes this could be an opportunity for learning a nurturing role that the mother has never had a chance to develop – especially if she was herself from a background of deprivation – or being ill-educated / from a crime background/ or abused situation/

    It is frequently those most at risk in our society who turn to crime. Where ever possible society should provide a chance for these people to learn from their mistakes.

    1. I must admit I didn’t think about parenting classes. And I guess if you’re in prison then you have no chance but to attend.

      I do agree that we, as a society must help those who are less fortunate. One of the things that strikes me and worries me personally is that my son has ADHD (though he doesn’t come from a criminal/deprived background) but therefore is statistically more likely to commit a crime. Just due to his impulsiveness.

      I am a strong believer though in taking responsibility for our actions, especially as adults, and it’s true to say that no matter what our background is, we make our own decisions. For example, children who were beaten often make the decision not to beat their own children.

      1. I ma reading an excellent book just now: it is specifically for parenting a child with Aspergers, but so much of it is good parenting sense…. (it is called ‘Parenting a child with Aspberger Syndrome by Brenda Boyd)

        what I have found encouraging is that I have used many of her ideas myself – worked out mainly by trial and error, and that has made me more confident that my parenting will have had a positive effect. I’m sure your parenting will also have found good and supportive strategies which in their turn will counterbalance the stats that ADHD kids have a higher incidence of turning to crime. It is when kids have a need that is not addressed that problem occur.

      2. I hope so. My main worry with our son is that he often doesn’t think just reacts. It’s like so much is going on in his brain, and so fast that he doesn’t have time to think if a decision is a good one or a bad one.

        The medication really helps. But according to doctors he’ll come off meds at some point and that scares me. Not just because of crime, foremost because of his safety.

        We started a saying with him: STOP. THINK. DECIDE. WE put it on his bedroom wall in the from of traffic lights. It works really well when we’re around but he hurtles on when we’re not.

        Of course, we’re over time developing lots of things like that to help him cope, but I do worry about his future because as a parent you feel responsible don’t you?

        His doctor from the clinic last year told us he has a good chance because he has the support of a really strong and able family. But I guess only time will tell how it actually works out.

  6. I’ve never been a particularly broody person myself, babies literally terrify me, so I think a few months ago I would have said quite vehemtly said that if a woman cares about her baby enough, she would not have committed the crime that could potentially jeopardise the baby in the first place. But recently I read the ‘Call the Midwife’ trilogy (I think it’s out in America as just ‘The Midwife’) on recommendation from my best friend who wants to be a midwife – incidently, her grandmother is actually the author. The book is a selection of stories based on her life as a district midwife in the east end of London in the 1950’s. There is a particular story that really stood out to me of a teenage girl who had her baby taken away for adoption due to the situation of poverty the mother was in. At first, I thought this was dreadfully cruel, but the book went on to explain that this was, most definately, the better situation for the baby itself. In real life the mother went mad and ended up stealing a baby later in life. When I think about my own mother, who is an artist and therefore slightly nuts anyway, she is getting crazier and crazier the closer it gets to me moving out in September.
    I don’t think forcidly taking a child away from it’s mother in any situation is a good idea. A woman commiting a crime is already in a state of either desperation or lacking mental stability. I don’t think it’s right for either mother or baby for them to be seperated in any case, and doing so could actually prove detramental to the prison sentence by causing the woman to reoffend. But at the same time, prison really isn’t a good start in life, the child shouldn’t be punished for the parents mistakes.
    It’s a difficult one. I agree with someone further up who says it depends on the specific case.

    1. I really enjoyed reading your comment – thank you!!

      I think that it is a really difficult question to answer. I too, think it is very dependent on each individual case. I guess that in itself says that at least in some circumstances I would allow it.

      I think my main concern is for the baby. I would really like to know the long term effects being born/living in prison have on a child. If they were not really negative, I think I would be much more likely to support the cause.

  7. Yes, but with guidelines and some exclusions. There would have to be some kind of governing and review boards who could review a mother’s ability before and during the period of care to make sure she adequately cares for and loves her child. Babies need to nurse and bond with their moms. The exception is, If the mother is to lose her parental rights and the baby to be immediately adopted then, I would think the baby should be with it’s adoptive family as soon as possible. A good number of the inmates will serve their time and be out to pick up the pieces of their lives and reconnect with and continue to raise their family. It is to societies’ benefit tor babies to feel a loving connection with their moms despite the mother’s faults. It isn’t optimum, but life rarely is…
    It also provides an opportunity to teach parenting skills that they may not previously have had.

    1. Great comment.

      I think any child in prison with their mother needs very much to be observed and protected and that of course means guidelines for observing the mother too.

      I think my biggest concerns are the safety of the child. Especially with regard to drugs.

  8. That’s a very interesting question. It’s also very complicated to answer. I think it has to be considered case by case. I think you need to take into account what the crime was, the seriousness of it, the length of the sentence and why they committed it in the first place. I think we can all agree with Tilly’s points about drug and child abuse. Thank you Pseu for the links to the UK info.

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