A justice minister, Lord Keen, declared the incident “distressing” and “rare”. So it was extraordinarily disturbing to learn, through a Guardian investigation, that far from being an isolated incident, this baby’s death followed the birth of another child in a cell at the same, privately-run prison earlier this year, and a series of other incidents in which women who went into labour were transferred to hospital late. Bronzefield is the largest women’s prison in Europe, but the questions raised relate to other institutions too.
The last five years saw a steady rise in the number of babies born to female prisoners in England and Wales (from 43 to 67) despite the female prison population barely changing. In 2017, 9% of births occurred outside hospital, presumably in cells or ambulances: far higher than the 2% of home births in the general population. Ex-prisoners report that medical appointments were regularly missed due to staff shortages.