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Perinatal Women: Custodial Settings

Volume 669: debated on Tuesday 14 January 2020

3. What plans his Department has to improve training for people working with perinatal women in custodial settings. (900152)

I, too, welcome to your place, Mr Speaker.

I know that the hon. Lady is very interested in this very important area and chaired a roundtable that a former Justice Minister attended. It is absolutely right that pregnant women in custody should get the care that they deserve. I hope she will be reassured to know that there is a two-day programme that prison officers can attend to ensure that they get the appropriate training to deal with women in custody who are pregnant. However, we recognise that there are more things that we can do, and before the election was called we had already started a fundamental review of pregnant women in custody and the operation of our mother and baby units.

The current review of the operational guidance for the mother and baby units is welcome, but guidance is not enough. Will the Minister agree to meet me and the charity Birth Companions to discuss the recommendations in its new birth charter toolkit and the need for mandatory standards, so that prisons are scrutinised and indeed held to account for perinatal care?

I would be happy to meet the hon. Lady, who is very experienced in this issue. Last week I visited HMP Bronzefield where I spoke to people on the mother and baby unit. Birth Companions operates from that prison, but I would be very happy to meet the hon. Lady and take advantage of her expertise.

The Liberal Democrats would scrap all sentences for women apart from the most serious offences. Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that that creates double standards in the justice system?

We have to recognise that the treatment of women in prison, their sentences and the treatment once they are sentenced might be different from men and if they are victims of crime. In our female offenders strategy, we recognise different treatment; but of course people who commit crimes must be punished for them.

I listened carefully to the Minister when she said that prison officers can access training. Does she agree that it should be mandatory for prison officers who are working with pregnant women to have such training, and can she confirm what proportion of prison officers have already accessed that training?

At least one prison officer in each establishment has already undertaken the training, so there is specialist support, and more women than that have done it; I would be very happy to provide the figures in due course.