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Why are pregnant women in prison?

Why are pregnant women in prison?


Oakdale Trust




Birth Companions


Dr. Geraldine Brown (CAWR), Rona Epstein (Honorary Research Fellow, Coventry Law School), Maria Garcia de Frutos (Midwifery Lecturer, University of London)


June 2020 - June 2022

CAWR Theme

Community Self-Organisation for Resilience

Sustainable Development Goals

Sustainable Development Goals logo.

No poverty logo.

Reduced inequalities logo.

Peace, injustice and strong institutions logo.

Pregnant woman silhouette behind bars.

Why are pregnant women in prison?

Our aim was to gather evidence from women who had been pregnant in prison about the realities of their experience and, with this evidence, to ask whether pregnant women should ever be sent to prison or whether alternatives should always be sought.

Project Overview

The aim of this study is to find out why pregnant women spend time in prison, on remand, on recall from licence conditions and on sentence. Research shows that women very rarely commit violent or serious crime, and very few women present any kind of danger to the public. Research also identifies that pregnant women are especially vulnerable and in need of extra care – so this raises critical questions about the incarceration of pregnant women. 

Whilst, there have been a number of studies carried out in the UK, which examined issues such as their care (or lack of care) and the health and the experiences of pregnant women and mothers, the aim of this study is to address a gap in knowledge in relation to examining why pregnant women are sent to prison.

Project Objectives

  • To examine pregnant women’s experiences of receiving a custodial sentence.
  • To examine the processes leading to pregnant women being sent to prison, on sentence, on remand and on licence recall.
  • To examine the court process leading to a decision to impose custody.
  • To examine if the criminal justice process gives consideration to factors such as pregnancy and motherhood.


The link between the issues of poverty, deprivation and social exclusion are coming to the attention of the criminal justice system. This study aims to increase public understanding of how our judicial system leads to vulnerable pregnant women spending time in prison, often before conviction, while on remand, or after conviction for minor offences. Ultimately, working with others such as Women in Prison, we hope to influence the decision-making process, with the aim of having fewer custodial sanctions and greater community-based sanctions for dealing with pregnant women and mothers.


 Queen’s Award for Enterprise Logo
University of the year shortlisted
QS Five Star Rating 2023