Our forum for Autumn Term 2017 is:

Wednesday November 22, 3pm,Cornwallis NW, Seminar Room 3

Bad Beginnings? A Qualitative Study of Prison Mother and Baby Units

Discussion Introduction by Rose Mortimer, DPhil Candidate, Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford, and member of the BeGOOD Early Intervention Project

In recent years, early intervention (EI) has received growing policy attention within the UK. The Early Intervention Foundation describes EI as “taking action as soon as possible to tackle problems for children and families before they become more difficult to reverse” (EIF 2016); such problems include poor physical and mental health, ill-preparedness for school and work, poverty, unemployment, and crime. In practice, EI means identifying children who are at risk of being “poorly parented” (Loughton 2015, 3) and providing support through a range of services such as antenatal care and parenting classes.

Interestingly, the children of prisoners are notably absent from UK EI policy. However, there are six Mother and Baby Units within UK women’s prisons where babies and toddlers reside with their mothers for up to 18 months. Although the term ‘early intervention’ is seldom used in this context, in practice a large part of the work done within MBUs focuses on building parenting skills and generally providing women with the knowledge and confidence to become good mums – and by extension – to be and to raise good citizens, and in so doing, build a better society.

In this presentation I will discuss some of the preliminary findings from my qualitative research with mums and staff in the mother and baby unit within HMP Styal, a women’s prison in the North West of England. Through a combination of interviews, focus groups and participant observation I explore how the prison’s goal of rehabilitation is tied to the identities of these women as mothers, what it means to make a woman a ‘good mother’ in this context, and how prison programs and environments are designed to achieve this goal. A study of prison MBUs allows me to explore key ethical concepts such as autonomy, responsibility, care and justice.