‘Distressing, degrading and high-risk’ – woman forced to give birth alone in prison cell

‘Distressing, degrading and high-risk’ – woman forced to give birth alone in prison cell

Western Australia’s Independent Inspector of Custodial Services today released a damning report into the circumstances surrounding a young Aboriginal woman who gave birth alone in a prison cell. 

The woman was known to be heavily pregnant to prison guards and pleaded for help for over an hour. Guards observed her giving birth through the hatch door to her cell, however they did not open the door until several minutes after the birth. 

The Inspector described what happened as “distressing, degrading and high risk”.

Shahleena Musk, Senior Lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, said that this was a shocking indictment on Western Australia’s prison system. 

“The pain, fear and suffering that this young woman must have experienced is simply unimaginable. That such a catastrophic failure of care can occur is this day and age speaks volumes about the fundamental inhumanity of prisons. The Western Australian government should be doing everything it can to ensure women – and certainly pregnant women – are not behind bars,” said Ms Musk.

The Inspector found that: 

  • Cascading and intersecting failures put the woman and her child at high risk, both before and after the birth. 

  • Prison staff downplayed the seriousness of the events when reporting to head office. 

  • The Western Australian Government has never undertaken proper planning or investment for female prisoners. 

Ms Musk said that pregnant women and women with young children should be allowed to serve their sentence in the community. 

“Prison is an inherently unsafe place. Women and their children should have every opportunity to be together in safety.  Beyond drastically reducing the number of women being forced into prison, the Western Australian Government should also introduce a leave system that allows pregnant women and women with caring responsibilities to serve their sentences in the community”, said Ms Musk.

Last week the Australian Bureau of Statistics released data showing that women’s imprisonment rates increased at double the rate of men’s across Australia. The Western Australian Government locks up Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at a rate like no other in the nation.

“Most women behind bars are survivors of violence, many are mothers. They are being separated from their families and communities and countless lives are being torn apart. We need a new approach to justice – one that prioritises supporting people over propping up dead-end prisons,” said Ms Musk.

The Inspector’s report can be found here.

For interviews call:

Alycia Gawthorne, Communications Officer, Human Rights Law Centre, 0425 016 380