THE UK GOVERNMENT MUST USE THE PASSAGE of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to put right some of the injustices relating to the sentencing of mothers in England, Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights has urged.

The sentencing of a mother should not result in a sentence for a dependent child too, says the Committee’s new report, Children of mothers in prison and the right to family life: The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.

The report contains five amendments which would ensure the rights of dependent children are properly considered and respected when a primary carer is sentenced. The amendments would:

  • Require judges to consider Pre Sentence Reports including information about children before sentencing a mother.
  • Require judges to take into account the best interests of the child.
  • Require Government to gather and publish data on how many children are born in prison and how many children are separated from their mother in prison.

When a criminal court sentences a parent with a dependent child, the Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the  rights of the parent and the child are engaged. In upholding these rights, judges should ensure that the child’s right to a family life is only interfered with to the extent that is both necessary and proportionate. The Committee fails to see how the welfare and best interests of children are being sufficiently considered if they are not prioritised when a parent is sentenced. The proposed amendments, when included in statute, should ensure the rights of children are not ignored.

The failure of Government to capture basic data about primary carers in prison and their dependent children, is a ‘blatant disregard’ for the rights of the child and their parents’ right to family life, says the Committee. Despite repeated calls from the Committee to collect data, the Government still does not know how many mothers of dependent children go to prison, or how many children are separated from their mothers through imprisonment. This lack of basic information prevents essential services from planning for children whose mothers are in prison, and deprives the child from accessing the support that will help them during and after their mother’s sentence.

The Committee proposes the insertion of a new clause imposing a requirement on the Secretary of State to collect and publish data on the number of prisoners who are the primary carers of a child and the number of children who have a primary carer in custody.

Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Harriet Harman, said: “A young child’s separation from its mother when she’s sent to prison risks lifelong damage to that crucial relationship. Yet, too often, the child is invisible in the court process. This must change.

“Most mothers who are in prison have committed non-violent crimes. And it’s appalling that there’s so little concern for children that the Government doesn’t even know how many children are suffering separation from their mother by imprisonment.

“There will be much backing from MPs from all parties for these law changes proposed by the Joint Committee on Human Rights.”

* Read Children of mothers in prison and the right to family life: The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill here

* Source: Joint Committee on Human Rights