Parliament: Questions Kelly's Asked

Mothers and Babies unit in prisons

The Hon. K.L. VINCENT: My questions are for the Minister for Correctional Services:

  1. Does the minister acknowledge that between 80 and 90 per cent of South Australia’s female prison population are mothers?
  2. Is the minister aware of the evidence demonstrating the benefit to both women and children of allowing babies to reside with their incarcerated mothers, particularly around parent-child attachment in the first year of the baby’s life and to enable breastfeeding?
  3. Can the minister confirm that South Australia is the only jurisdiction in Australia without a mothers and babies unit?
  4. Given that South Australia’s previous mothers and babies unit was closed in 2005, why, more than 12 years later, does the minister not have an answer on whether a unit will be re‑established in South Australia?
  5. Will the minister also agree to investigate options to allow those with significant parenting duties to serve their sentences in community-based settings, if appropriate, so that they can maintain contact with their children?

The Hon. P. MALINAUSKAS (Minister for Police, Minister for Correctional Services, Minister for Emergency Services, Minister for Road Safety): I thank the honourable member for her questions. I think this is the second occasion in recent weeks where the honourable member has asked questions regarding the mothers and babies unit, or lack thereof, within the South Australian prison system.

It is true that South Australia is one of few jurisdictions that does not have a mothers and babies facility on site within a custodial facility within South Australia, but it is worthy to note that there is good reason for this, principally that there are very few women, I have been advised, who, even if we did have a full-blown mothers and babies facility within our department, would have access to such a facility. It is a small number—an absolute minority of women—who are incarcerated at the Adelaide Women’s Prison who would otherwise have access to children if there was a mothers and babies facility at the AWP.

That being said, this is an issue that is worthy of consideration. I am aware of a body of evidence that exists that points to the benefits that exist for both children and parents, under certain circumstances, for the children to have access to mothers within a custodial environment. That said, this is a fraught area of public policy. I don’t think anyone within the community would like to see, or particularly likes the idea of, children being raised in a custodial environment. It is not seen as necessarily being the ideal situation for a child to be raised in.

As I said, there is a body of evidence to suggest the separation of child from parent can be to the detriment of both the child and the mother and, of course, that could have implications in terms of the rehabilitation process that a mother needs to go through prior to release. In that context, this is an issue we continue to pay attention to. If there were additional resources made available through the budget, this would not necessarily represent the number one priority, by virtue of the fact that there are other areas within the Correctional Services system that are worthy of attention, purely by weight of numbers.

Nevertheless, this is something that we are actively paying attention to. I have met with a number of advocacy groups which do advocate for a mothers and babies facility within the Adelaide Women’s Prison. Their concerns are legitimate and they are being heard by the government. But, as it stands, there are no immediate plans on the part of this government to have a build, or to install a new set of infrastructure, within the Adelaide Women’s Prison that would constitute a mothers and babies unit, as is similarly seen in other jurisdictions around the country.

Having said that, of course we continue to try to do whatever we reasonably can within the existing facilities to provide more ready access between mothers and children, where it is appropriate to do so, such as changes around visiting arrangements to allow for more regular visits. There are programs like Mum’s Voice, which recently received media attention, which provides a mechanism for mothers to be able to read books to babies while they are in the prison system. The facilities that exist within the Pre-release Centre, which I am advised have now been made available to women, enable a more appropriate environment for children to allow more regular and flexible visitation arrangements.

These things speak to a department that is committed to facilitating the concerns of mothers who find themselves in gaol, but no, as it stands there is no plan on the part of government to build a mothers and babies unit per se.

The Hon. K.L. VINCENT: Supplementary: given that, by the minister’s own admission, we are talking about such a small number of people, is there capacity to allow them to serve their sentences in a community-based environment, where appropriate?

The Hon. P. MALINAUSKAS (Minister for Police, Minister for Correctional Services, Minister for Emergency Services, Minister for Road Safety): Those decisions principally are made by courts around who should be serving their sentence in community or not. It is important to note that many women who find themselves in the Adelaide Women’s Prison are there because they have committed serious crimes and the court has seen fit, for whatever reasons—protection of the community at large or justice being done—for those women to serve their sentence in a custodial environment. That is a decision that is, for all intents and purposes, made by a court.

Where it is appropriate, in the court’s opinion or the opinion of the Parole Board that a community-based order be put in place, then of course that can occur. But, where women are sentenced to being imprisoned in a custodial environment, then of course that needs to be abided by in the interests of community safety.