Sir David was expressing concerns about the number of women in jails, including pregnant women convicted of non-violent crimes, during BBC radio interviews. "I don't think prison is the right place anyway to have them because they're confined conditions. They don't have as much access to open air as I would like," he said.
There are about 2,500 women in jails in England and Wales. Sir David said: "It's a pretty restrictive environment in which to conduct the first period of a child's life, quite apart from inevitable problems of looking after the mother in the immediate aftermath. Personally, what I think is that one has got to be very careful in deciding whether these women actually need to be in prison anyway. They're hardly likely to constitute a great risk to the public if they're released."
His remarks follow the controversy over the shackling of pregnant women with handcuffs and chains during hospital treatment. The prisoner whose treatment first highlighted the practice, Annette Walker, 31, has since begun a legal action for injury and distress against the Home Office. Pregnant prisoners are now released from handcuffs on arrival at hospital.
Ann Widdecombe, the former prisons minister, warned that special treatment for pregnant prisoners could be abused.
But Sir David got backing from Paul Cavadino, of the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, who said: "Prison is a stressful place in which to go through pregnancy and ante-natal care. The alternative course of separating women prisoners from their children can be devastating for the mother and have damaging long-term effects on the child."Reuse content