Dr Shona Minson interviewed by LBC radio on changing attitudes on the imprisonment of pregnant women

Dr Shona Minson, Centre for Criminology, was recently interviewed (Sunday, 25 February) by Matthew Wright on LBC radio. This comes after being quoted in an article published in the Observer. The article was in response to a public poll showcasing the level of public support for not imprisoning pregnant women.  

The poll was conducted by Survation, in aid of the campaign group Level Up and women’s charity One Small Thing. The results concluded that 53% of respondents believed pregnant women should not be sent to prison with their infants if a community-based alternative was available. Currently, there are no assigned commitments in place for judges to consider pregnancy or maternity when making sentencing decisions. Shona was quoted in the article, suggesting that recent evidence showed that women are overall less likely commit further offences when sentenced within a community.  

Shona was later interviewed by LBC’s Mattew Wright to discuss how public attitudes could impact future sentencing decisions. When asked to comment on the recent shift in public attitudes, she said “At the moment there aren’t a huge number of women in prison, but the impacts of imprisoning women are huge because often these women will have children or other family dependents. And of course when they go into prison and their families lose them, that will have not just immediate impacts on families –but actually there’s a study from Holland that says if your mother was in prison when you were a child, you’re more likely to die before the age of 65 than your peers.” 

The interview highlights how we can’t underestimate the further complexities that arise for children when their mothers are imprisoned. The current sentencing guidelines state that there is room for considering the impact on any dependents of a sentence. The harm caused to dependents by a sentence can make a proportionate sentence disproportionate. Following a consultation process on a revised Sentencing Guideline, it is possible that the new Guideline would make it clear to sentencers that women should only give birth in prison in only exceptional circumstances.  

Shona later describes the difficulties many women face once they’ve left prison. In many cases, women leave prison homeless and unemployed, and are more likely to do so than men. Matthew raises the question of whether Shona believes the majority of women should be given community punishments, as opposed to being imprisoned.  

The interview concludes with the information that over 70% of women in prison today haven’t committed violent offences, and the same percentage are sentenced to imprisonment for less than 6 months. Which raises the question, why are they in prison in the first place? Is it worth women enduring imprisonment if it is only to cause further disruption and harm for not themselves, but for their dependents? Is prison the best punishment? Does one size really fit all? 

You can listen to Shona’s full interview on LBC radio here.