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Four babies born to women in prison last year

The seven births in 2017 and 2016 follow no births to mothers in custody in 2015 with three in 2014 and two in 2013.

The entrance to Mountjoy Prison in Dublin.
The entrance to Mountjoy Prison in Dublin.
Image: Photocall Ireland

FOUR BABIES WERE born to mothers in custody in 2017- the highest annual number in recent years.

In figures provided to Clare Daly TD by the Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan, the four babies born to mothers in custody tops the three babies born to mothers in custody in 2016

The seven births in 2017 and 2016 follow no births to mothers in custody in 2015 with three in 2014 and two in 2013.

In total, 17 babies have been born to mothers in custody between 2010 and the end of last year.

According to a spokesman for the prison service “there is a considerable level of support available for mothers and babies in the Dóchas Centre”.

He said: “Provisions are made to facilitate new mothers keeping their infants with them in custody so as not to disrupt early bonding.  Each mother and child are provided with their own single room with en-suite facilities in the mother and baby Unit on their return to the Dóchas Centre after giving birth.

He said: “Required items such as a cot, baby food, nappies etc. are also provided.”

The level of maternity care provided to women in custody, including ante-natal care, is comparable to that available to women in the community.

The care is provided on a shared care arrangement between the maternity hospital to which the patient is referred, and the Healthcare Team in the Dóchas Centre.

Pregnant women attend a maternity hospital, and the babies receive the same care from Public Health Nurses as that provided to a baby born outside prison. The Dóchas Centre provides a 24 hour nursing service, and has daily access to a Prison Doctor.”

Once the child in each instance reaches 12 months at the mother and baby unit, the baby must then leave the prison leaving his/her mother behind in accordance with prison rules – this compares to the UK system where babies can remain with their mothers until there are 18 months old.

A recent report by the Dochas Visiting Committee stated: “The unit dedicated to the use of mothers and their babies is bright, warm, well ventilated and nicely decorated. It is well stocked.Generally, the requirements of the mothers and their babies have been met.”

The Dóchas centre that has the capacity to house 105 female inmates is the only prison in the country that has facilities for mothers and babies.

According to the prison service spokesman: “procedures are in place to ensure the handover (of the baby) is done in as sensitive and as painless a manner as possible”.

He said: “Case conferences are arranged to include the mother, the child’s carer and if appropriate the father. Arrangements are made for the child to spend time (including overnights) with the carer in advance of the hand over.  Arrangements are also made for the child to return to the mother.”

As part of the suite of services to mothers who have given birth while in jail, the spokesman said that “counselling is provided to the mother at all stages of the transition.  Contact is also made with the social services in the carer’s local area to monitor the care being provided to the child”.

The service’s 2007 prison rules provide the structure for babies to remain with their mothers until they are 12 months of age.

The rules state that a child shall not be removed from the care of his or her mother unless upon the order of a court or the mother of the child consents. The rules state that before the discharge of a child from a prison, the prison governor shall ascertain in consultation with the child’s mother, and the HSE, the appropriate placement for the care of the child.

Read: Mother-of-four who stole €100,000 in fraudulent social welfare payments sentenced to 10 months >

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Gordon Deegan

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