(see paragraph four for the comment on fines) but the rest of this Hansard report merits reading and is an endorsement of the House of Lords

Action taken to reduce the number of mothers imprisoned with their infants in England and Wales.

Baroness Northover advises that “… sentencing in individual cases is a matter for the independent judiciary. Where a judge or a magistrate sentences a mother to custody, mother and baby units are made available to ensure that the best interests of the child are met, enabling the mother and child relationship to develop and to safeguard and promote the child’s welfare. The number of women imprisoned with babies has remained broadly stable at around 50 over the past two years.”

She adds “the Government are fully committed to reducing the number of women in custody, and that is already happening. Recent sentencing changes should help that further. If a woman or a man is a sole or primary carer, that should be considered as a mitigating factor in sentencing. Recent guidelines from the Sentencing Guidelines Council have reiterated this. There are seven small mother and baby units, the largest having 13 spaces, which support the development of mother and baby relationships. In deciding whether a mother and baby should be referred to one of these units, the interest of the child is paramount.

Baroness Corston enjoins “… she [the Government] acknowledge that there is overwhelming public support in this country for the proposition that women who commit non-violent offences who are mothers of small children should not be locked up at all?”

Baroness Northover responds: “I pay tribute to the noble Baroness for all her work in this area, which shifted the last Labour Government enormously in terms of what they did. We are building on that work. As I mentioned, one of the changes in the last justice Bill, LASPO, says, for example, that if it is unlikely that somebody is going to have a custodial sentence, they are not remanded in prison. …….. Similarly, there has been a turning around of what happens if somebody breaches their community order. It was mandatory before that that should be escalated, which often meant that women in that circumstance ended up in prison. What is suggested now is that there should be a fine-and that, too, should divert women away from prison. There are a number of ways in which it is extremely important to approach this to try to ensure that women are kept out of prison when that is appropriate, but to ensure that they are well supported if they are in prison.”

House of Lords, Tuesday, 10 July 2012.