British Columbia

Babies should stay with their moms in prisons

Newborns continue to be separated from their prison mothers despite a 2013 B.C. Supreme Court ruling.

'If you take a baby from his or her mother at birth, you actually are discriminating against that child'

A proposed guideline mother-child care units in correctional facilities says early mother-infant bonding is best for child, mother and has greater impacts on prisoners.

New guidelines developed by the Collaborating Centre for Prison Health and Education emphasize that incarcerated mothers should have their children with them from birth.

Despite a court ruling that found it unconstitutional to separate the two, there are still no babies in provincial prisons, says Ruth Martin who helped develop the guidelines.

"If you take a baby from his or her mother at birth, you actually are discriminating against that child, because that child then does not have the opportunity to breastfeed and to develop those early bonding attachments that are needed," said Martin.

A 2013  B.C. Supreme court ruling found it unconstitutional to keep babies and mothers apart after former inmate Patricia Block's baby was taken away two days after she gave birth while behind bars at Alouette Correctional Centre.

Despite a new mother-child program at the centre, this past summer the babies of two aboriginal inmates were taken away just hours after they gave birth.

While the new guidelines' primary concern is the impact on the child, there are benefits for the mother, said Martin.

"Most women who are incarcerated are of childbearing age. Most of them are mothers and are separated from their children, so when the opportunity is there to have the baby with them from birth, and to actually be supported in their parenting skills, mothers are very motivated to become the best possible mother they can," she explained.

But the impact stretches further than mother and infant. Inmates also benefit from having babies in prison, says Martin.

"The impact on inmates was profound. Many of them were starting to reflect about their own children and how they themselves could be better mothers. Many of the women were actually prompted to start getting in touch with their children and actually became motivated to get involved in this course," said Martin.

Martin says she is optimistic that the guidelines will be implemented, but says movement is slow because there are so many agencies involved.

To hear the full interview listen to the audio labelled B.C. should keep more babies with their moms in prison with the CBC's Rick Cluff on The Early Edition.


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