The stoppage of contact between mothers in prison and their children is sticking the wellbeing of thousands of children at risk.
The joint human rights committee says about 17,000 children with mothers in prison are exposed to danger. MPs and peers have urged the government to put an end to the Covid-19 visiting ban on children in England and Wales whose mothers are inmates and also take into consideration releasing those who are low-risk.
In a statement the Labour MP for Camberwell and Peckham, who is chair of the human rights committee, Harriet Harman said: “One of the fundamental human rights is the right to family life. It is children for whom this right is most important. Yet when the government banned children from visiting their mother in prison they trampled over that right.
“They can put that right now by early release for those mothers who can safely go back home with their children and re-instating visits for the rest. Covid-19 causes lasting injury. But so does separating a child from its mother. The way to protect public health is not to damage children but to release low-risk mothers and reinstate socially distanced visits.”
During the coronavirus pandemic, only twenty-four women have been released in England and Wales under the scheme for pregnant prisoners and new mothers, together with another seven women who were within two months of completing their sentence.
Initially, it was inferred that more prisoners would be released however, prison sources said that they were finding it difficult to find suitable accommodation and support in the community, hence making it harder to let more numbers of pregnant women, mothers and babies out of jail.
A certain grandmother looking after her five grandchildren said that her daughter who is an inmate was previously able to visit her children every two weeks for five days as part of a temporary release programme. However, since the coronavirus pandemic began she has not been able to visit for three months and only two of her children had been offered a virtual call.
She said: “This is affecting the children in a bad way, especially the youngest, aged six. He has nightmares and cries so much. We all just need to see her,”
The Prison Service spokesperson said that they had not trifled the decision to ban visits – it was based on public health advice and reflected the restrictions faced by the country.