Woman prisoner pleads to keep new-born girl

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The Independent Online
A WOMAN prisoner who gave birth to a girl on Tuesday night yesterday appealed to the Home Secretary to allow her to keep her child.

The inmate, who cannot be named, has been told that the baby will be taken from her tomorrow and handed over to social services if the Court of Appeal turns down her application to keep her child.

From her hospital bed, she said: "Jack Straw is a father. He must know what I am going through. To lose my baby would tear me apart. The prison system is supposed to support and reform people. Do they really think that taking my baby away from me would make me a better person?"

The woman, a 24-year-old former university student, was convicted earlier this year of wounding with intent and sentenced to five years in prison. She will shortly return to Holloway prison in north London. With good behaviour, she can expect to be free in August 2000, when her daughter will be 22 months old. "If we are separated, she would barely know me. We would not have had a chance to bond," said the inmate yesterday.

Facilities in prison allow some mothers to keep their babies with them for up to 18 months but this particular inmate, as in a number of other recent cases, was refused a place. The units admissions board concluded that her "unpredictable behaviour could have put other babies in the unit at risk". Of these claims she said: "While in prison, I have been subject to two adjudications and in each case I was found innocent and judged to be a victim of violence. I have been refused a place in the unit solely on the basis of unjustified rumour.

"What happens is that inmates tell officers things, which they log in their books. These allegations are then used as the basis of deciding whether you can keep your baby even though they have not been proved and you have not had the chance to challenge them."

She added: "The other women in the mother and baby unit want me to be with them. They are the same women as I was with in the pregnant women's unit."

The baby girl, who weighed 6lbs 11oz, has a chromosomal abnormality. She remained yesterday in a north London hospital with her mother, who breast-fed and bathed her. "I did not sleep last night," said the prisoner. "I wanted to stay up all night and just look at her. She is so beautiful."

Sheila Kitzinger, the childcare expert and author who has championed the women prisoners' case, said: "A breastfed baby and her mother should not be separated. That is a matter of human rights.

"The Home Secretary should ask the prison service to have a rethink about the care of pregnant women and women with babies. The service should be concerned to provide an environment in which a woman has a chance to mature as a mother and leave behind her criminal past."