High Court rejects mothers' plea to keep babies in jail

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The Independent Online

Two female prisoners lost a High Court battle yesterday for the right to keep their daughters with them in jail beyond the age of 18 months.

Two female prisoners lost a High Court battle yesterday for the right to keep their daughters with them in jail beyond the age of 18 months.

The babies, both 22 months, are likely to be placed with foster parents. The judges rejected claims by the women, who are serving sentences for drugs offences, that separating mother and baby breached the child's human rights.

Lord Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice, and Mr Justice Lightman saidthey were anxious not to encourage drug gangs to make "even greater use of expectant mothers and mothers with young children in the hope that they will be dealt with leniently if detected".

The ruling is the latest in a series of failed challenges to jail conditions brought under new human rights legislation.

The judges found that the Home Secretary, Jack Straw,had "adopted a reasonable balance" in the cases. Under Prison Service rules, female inmates can keep their children up to the age of 18 months.

The women, referred to as P and Q, were refused permission to appeal, but their lawyers indicated they would apply to the Court of Appeal.

Prisoner P, a 32-year-old from Jamaica, serving eight years at a jail in Cheshire, was five months pregnant in 1999 when she was arrested at Gatwick airport and charged with smuggling cocaine. She said she was coerced into carrying the drugs, but her defence was rejected. Moves to take away her child in January were postponed until after the hearing.

Prisoner Q, from London, is serving five years at Askham Grange, York, after being convicted in March last year of conspiracy to supply cannabis. Her child was born in 1999 while she was on bail.