Inequality on the inside

Think tank: The Nuffield Trust

Author(s): Dr Miranda Davies; Rachel Hutchings; Eilís Keeble

July 19, 2022

This report from UK think tank the Nuffield Trust uses hospital data to understand the key health care issues for women in prison.

This new research, which was funded by the Health Foundation, underlines the challenges and risks women in prison face because of barriers to accessing health and care services.  All prisoners have a right to receive the same standard of health care as people in the general population, irrespective of the situation in which they are currently living. Women in prison have distinct health care needs, and with the government recently committing to building 500 new prison places for female prisoners, getting a full understanding of how effectively health care is being provided for women in prison is vital. We find that that pregnant women in prison are almost twice as likely to go into preterm labour compared to the general population. Prisons and those staffing them have not been well equipped to deal with these challenges, potentially putting both mother and baby at significant risk if they are unable to reach the hospital in time.  Our work also finds that more than a fifth of midwifery appointments are being missed by pregnant prisoners, with a key reason for missed appointments being a lack of available escort staff. We have also collated data on the number of women in prison with children under the age of two. As data has not been routinely collected, it is very unclear whether this group and their children are receiving adequate support. Our figures suggest the capacity of mother and baby units throughout the prison estate in England could be overwhelmed if everyone who was eligible or would benefit from them were using them. While not all women will be able to go to mother and baby units, it is important to understand current need and demand and to project into the future to make sure capacity is sufficient and facilities are appropriate.