Campaigners have said that a government decision to reclassify women’s prisons will unfairly disadvantage the children of prisoners, who are now likely to have less access to their mothers.
Last month, the government removed the “semi-open” classification from two women’s prisons, Morton Hall in Lincolnshire and Drake Hall in Staffordshire. They are now classified as “closed”. This leaves twelve closed, two open and no semi-open women’s prisons in England and Wales.
Women in Prison, an NGO which works to support women offenders and ex-offenders, expressed alarm about the effect on prisoners’ children. Semi-open prisoners are allowed to apply to spend time with their children outside of jail.
Rachel Brett of the Quaker United Nations Office told the weekly Quaker magazine The Friend that this was “an issue of concern in relation to the rights of the child”.
Quoted in this week's issue of the magazine (12 March), she said that family contact was also important in reducing re-offending. She added that the new policy could reduce “the likelihood of successful integration”.
Given the lack of publicity which the reclassification has attracted, Women in Prison has described the policy as “the quiet abolition of semi-open prisons for women”.
The NGO alleges that the new policy breaches European prison rules, which state that “the security measures applied to individual prisoners shall be the minimum necessary to achieve their secure custody”.
The Labour MP Mike Wood has tabled an Early Day Motion (EDM 956) calling on the government to review its reclassification decision.
There are currently over 4,000 women in British prisons. About two-thirds are mothers, while according to the Prison Reform Trust, more than half have experienced domestic violence and one in three has suffered sexual abuse.
Women in Prison estimates that around 17,700 children in the UK are separated from their mothers each year owing to imprisonment.