Multiple failings led to an 18-year-old woman giving birth alone in her cell to a baby which died in Europe’s largest women’s prison, a report has found.
A report by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) has highlighted a series of failures in the care of the teenager who gave birth at HMP Bronzefield in September 2019.
A pathologist had been unable to determine whether the baby was stillborn or had died after birth, the report said.
Information sharing within and between the prison and health agencies was poor and the approach to managing the teenager was uncoordinated and no one responsible for her care had a full history of her pregnancy, the report said.
HMP Bronzefield said it had cooperated fully with the PPO investigation and it was “deeply sorry”.
Frances Crook, of the Howard League for Penal Reform, told Channel 4 News: “Prison is not safe for them (women). It’s not safe for their babies. It’s not safe if you’re pregnant. The women should not be in prison.”
The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was “sad, angry and very scared” that her baby would be taken away from her and didn’t engage with midwives, the report said. She gave birth at night in September 2019 without medical care or attention.
There was a lack of clarity about the teenager’s due date and the response to her request for a nurse on 26 September “was completely inadequate”, the PPO report added. The report recommended improvements to the way the jail treats pregnant prisoners.
Sue McAllister, the author of the report, said: “We consider that all pregnancies in prison should be treated as high risk by virtue of the fact that the woman is locked behind a door for a significant amount of time.
“In addition, there is likely to be a higher percentage of ‘avoidant’ mothers who have experienced trauma and who are fearful of engaging with maternity care.”
Justice Secretary Dominic Raab said the case was “harrowing, unacceptable and should never happen to any woman or child”, adding that the Ministry of Justice had implemented the report’s recommendations.
Vicky Robinson, director at HMP Bronzefield, said: “This was tragic and extremely sad; nothing we can say or do will change that. We are deeply sorry that this happened and our thoughts throughout have been with the family.
“In the two years which have passed, we have cooperated fully with the PPO investigation including transparently sharing the results of our own immediate internal enquiry.”