A radio report (and accompanying written report) on the imprisonment of women and mothers in the Dóchas Centre aired on 10 July 2018 on Newstalk. The report, ‘Time for change? Women and mothers in the Irish prison system’, highlighted the challenge incarceration of women poses to reconciliation of personal and family life. Simon Tierney (Newstalk, Moncrieff Show Researcher) gained access to the prison earlier this year and interviewed prisoners and staff about their experiences. The report also featured an interview with IPRT Executive Director Deirdre Malone
At the time of the interview, there were 3 mothers with their babies on site, with allowances being made for children under the age of 12 months to be allowed stay with their mother in a Mother and Baby Unit. The women interviewed expressed worries about what would happen to their children once they reach 12 months, fearing the child will be released to a family member whom they have never met, leading to severe distress.
Staff interviewed highlighted that the ideal situation would be one in which “the baby leaves with the mother and continues to thrive in a community”, but more often than not, this is not possible. The mothers interviewed stated that they fear the child is aware their situation isn’t normal and worries whether it would be more beneficial for the baby to be released to family immediately following birth.
The report features the issue of shame surrounding women in prison. Newstalk reports that the majority of women interviewed Dóchas were the primary caregivers, with many of them feeling so ashamed of their actions that they didn’t reveal their incarceration to their children until months, or even years, after their sentencing.
The issues faced by women in prison are complex, with the majority of women who walk through the prison gates having issues with their family life, drug addiction and poverty. The unique issues faced by women raise questions about alternatives ways for a woman to pay her debt back to society and still continue as a mother. Charlie Flanagan stated recently that prison should be a last resort and not for non-violent offenders, but provisions must be made for this in the community.
IPRT Executive Director Deirdre Malone spoke to Newstalk about these complex issues, including mental health, adversity and women often being the victims of violence themselves. She also reiterated the fact that women in prisons usually pose little risk to society, stating:
“Services should be offered in the community to address offending and for women to make reparations for the crimes they have committed in these cases”. If more gender-specific non-custodial responses to crime were developed, the consequences of separating mother and child would be minimised.