British Columbia

Moms and babies 'actually do very well' together in prison, researcher says

A researcher says mothers and their infants, when kept together, can thrive in prisons. They have special units built for them, and both mothers and their children seem to benefit.

Issue of mothers and babies in prison back in news following reports of Kelly Ellard's pregnancy

Convicted murderer Kelly Ellard, seen here in 2000, is reportedly pregnant. A researcher says mothers and babies often do well when kept together in prison. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

A researcher who has studied infants living with their incarcerated mothers in prison says both mothers and children often thrive in these programs.

The issue of mothers and infants in prison is back in the news with reports Kelly Ellard, serving a life sentence for the murder of Reena Virk in 1997, is about to have a baby.  

"They actually do very well," Amy Salmon, with the Centre for Health Evaluation Outcome Sciences at the University of British Columbia told On The Coast host Stephen Quinn.

"They're much more likely to meet their developmental milestones. They often have access to very good health care, often at a frequency that's much greater than they might have received in the community. They're also more likely to be vaccinated and breastfed."

She says the special units built for mothers and their infants include access to other children to play with and "safe and appropriate" adults to help the children develop normally.

Benefits go both ways

Correctional Service Canada would not comment on reports of Ellard's pregnancy citing privacy reasons, but said they are "committed to enhancing opportunities for mothers and their children to interact."

In a statement, the CSC says programs like the Mother-Child Residential Program provides a "supportive environment that promotes stability and continuity for the mother-child relationship" and assists in rehabilitation and reintegration for offenders.

Salmon agrees the benefits are two-way.

"[Mothers] are much less likely to return to prison, and when we look at women who might be struggling with addictions, those who are able to retain custody of their children often do much better when it comes to maintaining their own health and well-being," she said.

Salmon says a child can stay with their mother in prison for up to four years, but the exact length of time varies based on what she says is the best interests of the child.

After that, they will be placed with someone outside the correctional system, preferably family, but sometimes into foster care.

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast

To hear the full interview, click the audio labelled: Moms and babies 'actually do very well' together in prison, researcher says