Pregnant and in prison: Why the law doesn’t care for motherhood

So ignored and scorned are they that when Layla told prison staff she was in labour, they gave her a cup of tea and a paracetamol. Andy Martin speaks to author Angela Clarke, a prison visitor who has just written a new novel based on her experiences of the ‘pregnants’

Sunday 21 July 2019 11:33
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Illustration by Dilruba Tayfun
Illustration by Dilruba Tayfun

Gemma was 14 weeks pregnant when she was sentenced. She hadn’t intended to set fire to her building, she had only been trying to gas herself. No one else was harmed. She suffered from EUPD (Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder), and had a full-blown breakdown aged 30. She was on bail for two-and-a-half years, in which time she had rebuilt her relationship with her two children, found a partner, a job, and a home. And she was pregnant. In the teeth of the pre-sentencing report arguing for her to remain at liberty, the judge locked her up for several years, together with her unborn child.

She was shoved in a small holding room with 14 other women. Her medication was taken away. Instantly nauseous, she asked to be let out of the room because she was feeling sick. “You need to get used to it!” came the reply. She duly threw up.

The law takes no notice of pregnancy. The law is blind towards mothers-to-be. And prisons try to be for as long as possible. In theory, you get taken to the local hospital to give birth, with appropriate care, usually while handcuffed or chained to the bed and accompanied at all times by two guards (of either gender). But it doesn’t always work out that way.

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