Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Liam McArthur MSP has today revealed that dozens of pregnant women have served destructive short-term prison sentences in the last five years, reinforcing the need for the Scottish Government to press ahead with a presumption against jail sentences of less than 12 months.
Figures uncovered by the Scottish Liberal Democrats under freedom of information reveal that since 2013 there have been 104 pregnant women in prison, of whom 31 gave birth while serving their sentence. Of these 104 women, 37 were given sentences of less than 12 months.
Mr McArthur commented:
"The fact that 37 expectant mothers have been given destructive short-term sentences in recent years should have alarm bells ringing.
"All the evidence shows that short-term sentences don't work and are less effective than robust community-based disposals in reducing reoffending. Rates of reoffending amongst those who have served short stints in prison are sky high. That is why Scottish Liberal Democrats have consistently urged the Scottish Government to introduce a presumption against sentences of less than 12 months, something Ministers now accept would be a positive step.
"If in the process it means more pregnant women pay for any crime they have committed through robust means short of prison then that has to be in everyone’s interests.
"Of course, we also need state of the art care, mother and baby units and visiting arrangements in place for those women for whom prison is the only option. Positive contact can make a huge contribution towards their getting back on track.
"While prison staff work very hard to make these difficult situations work, this is a heartbreaking way for children to start off in life and such experiences pose an inherent risk to their development. The Scottish Government's commitment to giving every child the best start in life means ensuring that young children don't pay for a parent's wrongdoing."