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Howard League blog · 14 Mar 2021

Mothers in prison

I am a mother. I have spent a lot of time in prisons and I know prison is no place for mothers. On Mothers’ Day, I am asking you to think about mothers in prison.

Imagine being a mother and being locked up in prison. For the last year mothers have not been able to hug their children. Even in normal times visits are intermittent and for many mothers they just don’t happen. Many mothers don’t want children to visit because visits are so fraught, having to sit still for two hours on plastic chairs in a clinical hall, opposite your fractious, anxious and upset child, after having not seen them for weeks or even months.

I can only just begin to imagine the extreme pain of not being to hug and spend time with your children every day. No one knows precisely how many children are separated from mothers in prison, but it is likely to be around 17,000 every year.

The good news is that the number of women in prison has fallen by around 600, but there are still too many mothers being remanded and sentenced to prison.

No one knows precisely how many children are separated from mothers in prison, but it is likely to be around 17,000 every year

The bad news is that the government has plans to build 500 more cells for women, which because there are now empty cells, will mean that they are planning for 1,200 more women to be locked up at any one time, and many thousands to experience prison for short periods. Most will be mothers – often of young children.

This is wrong, this is wicked and cruel.

Two babies died last year after women gave birth in prisons.

That is wrong, that is wicked and cruel.

On Mothers’ Day we think of the mothers and their children who have been in prison and the mothers and children who are locked up today. They are overwhelmingly in need of help and support, they are not dangerous to anyone else. They should not be in prison.

Please support the Howard League campaign to stop building more prison cells for mothers.


  • Rona Epstein says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with what you have written Frances. The idea of building 500 new prison places for women is truly horrific. I hope we can all write to our MPs and ask them to vote against this truly dreadful idea. We cannot let OUR money be spent in this cruel way.

  • Una Parker says:

    A high proportion of people in prison, now,- both men and women- have experienced trauma as children. So how does it make any sense to be causing trauma to children now by putting their mothers in prison.?

  • There probably has to be a prison sentence for some crimes, but one prison for women would surely be enough. The damage to children that so many have mentioned is irreparable. And prison is the wrong way of dealing with almost all bad behaviour.

  • In total contradiction to #Corston2007 How about some levelling up of sentences so women are only jailed for what men are jailed for and not this double standard in sentencing.

  • Wendy Roberts says:

    International Women’s week draws to a sad close with the sight of women gathered together to mark the tragic passing of an innocent young woman, our thoughts are with her family. We remember all the families of women in prison, the children being cared for by siblings, grandparents or sadly even strangers. Mums, daughters, sisters and friends thinking of each other while apart. Sending women to prison even for short sentences makes no sense, let’s exchange punishment for support, kindness and understanding and fund services to help those most in need. Prison does NOT work.

  • Barbara Korzeniowska says:

    Lockdown for ordinary people is hard and difficult. Prison is so much worse. and unnecessary in many cases.

  • Paul Richard Sheridan TD BA says:

    I certainly agree.

  • Robin Sutcliffe says:

    I know only too well the pain that children suffer as a result of having one of their parents in prison. I spent a number of years setting up a play facility for visiting children in Wakefield High Security prison and New Hall Prison for women. These children are probably one of the most deprived, emotionally, educationally and play in our culture. I totally support the opposition to more space for women.

  • Jill Osman says:

    I’m glad that the Howard League is standing up for women in prison. The Government should be seeking for ways to keep women out of prison, not building more prisons. It is well researched that short sentences are counter productive and needlessly disrupt women’s lives.

  • Caroline Needham says:

    Many thoughts on Mother’s day for families separated by imprisonment. Children are frequently looked after by families struggling to answer simple questions ‘Why can’ t I see her? ‘ and’ When is she coming home? ‘. Grandmothers stepping in to look after confused and distressed children have a hard time.

  • Susan Lendrum says:

    The challenge for the abandoned children of mothers in prison is enormous. And society expects them to be loyal to community and family. Come on Society, wake up! Mothers in prison is ridiculous folly.

    And comfort to all mothers in prison this day.

  • We always have about 80,000 people in prison. Numbers go up and down.
    There are fewer people in or army.
    We have the worst criminal justice system in the civilised world, excepting the USA.
    Prison does not work and never has and never will as a punishment or a deterrent.
    People who are dangerous or violent, or our mentally ill, or our enemies do need to be restrained from time to time.
    All sentences must have imprisonment removed as a measure of maximum or minimum in all acts Parliament or law of any kind.
    Sentences which provide a means of humane correction by education must replace imprisonment. Some of these may be very severe all must be effective.
    All judges and magistrates need to be be taught and if they, or any person in office fail to reform they must be removed from office forthwith. This also apples to members of Parliament in both houses.
    It has been calculated that only about 70,000 people today can be released today.
    All prisons must be demolished and razed to the ground so that not one can ever be used again under any circumstance or for any reason.
    Local secure places of restraint must be provided within every community so that no visitor finds it too expensive of difficult to visit, regularly and frequently.
    There must be no discrimination between men and women or people of any sex.

  • Tina Metcalfe says:

    Breaking up families causes long term damage to children that can continue to the next generation. Money that might be spent on new prisons and the cost of keeping inmates their would be far better spent on serious care, counselling, and parenting classes along with community service. All properly funded!

  • Sue Wood says:

    Imprison the mother and you imprison the child. Many mothers are victims themselves and need help and compassion. Locking them up just compounds the problems when community sentences would be far more beneficial.

  • Francis McDonagh says:

    Are prisons a good solution for offenders who aren’t a danger to the public. The whole question of punishment and rehabilitation needs re-examining. But the damage imprisoning mothers does to children surely outweighs any benefit from imprisoning them.

  • Diana Brighton says:

    There is a better way and several organisations agree but the government doesn’t listen. Misogyny in this country runs in from the top down.

  • Hugh McMichael says:

    50% of women in prison are care-leavers.
    Isn’t it time to break this cycle rather than reinforcing it by creating more disturbance of mother-child love?
    Where is humanity?

  • Angela Munns says:

    There has to be a better way, I think it causes so much damage to children and only stores up more trouble for the future

  • Karen says:


    There are contributing factors for women being in prison. I work in an drug and alcohol service for criminal justice; our funding was cut last year again. However more funding has been given specifically for clients on probation and prison releases. It’s difficult for prisoners being discharged into the community NFA, no benefits put in place for them, the easiest option is to steal to survive. Probation as of June will be national probation services as the privatisation didn’t work. I really hope this may have a better impact. Don’t know the answers to it all.

  • Lorraine Boyce says:

    Absolutely agree.

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