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Ireland: 23 pregnant women have been in custody in prison this year

A total of 23 pregnant women have been in custody in the country’s two female prisons so far this year, new figures have revealed.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has confirmed that 19 pregnant women have been cared for in the Dóchas Centre in Dublin – the female prison located within the Mountjoy Prison campus – and four pregnant women in Limerick Prison.

It is the first time the Irish Prison Service has released figures about the number of pregnant women in custody as it previously believed that the publication of such data would have breached patient confidentiality.

However, Mr Flanagan said the IPS was now satisfied that the disclosure of such information would not breach data protection or patient confidentiality rules.

Figures show that 21 pregnant women were also in custody in both 2017 and 2018 across the two prisons. In reply to a parliamentary question from Independent TD, Tommy Broughan, Mr Flanagan also revealed that ten women had given birth since 2016 while in custody.

Mr Flanagan stressed that expectant mothers were always facilitated to have their children born in hospital. He said: “No babies have been born within the confines of a prison”. Mr Flanagan said he was advised by IPS officials that the level of maternity care provided to women in custody was “comparable to that available to women in the community”.

The minister said it was provided on a shared care arrangement between the maternity hospital to which the patient was referred and the healthcare team in either the Dóchas Centre or Limerick Prison.

He confirmed that the Dóchas Centre has a mother and baby unit to where all expectant mothers from both female prisons were transferred during their last trimester.

The minister said all women stayed in the unit as long as their baby remained with them.

Prison rules allow for a child to remain in the care of their mother in prison until they are 12 months old.

Mr Flanagan said there were currently no babies living within the unit.

The HSE has responsibility for the provision of ante-natal education services with the number of classes decided between the HSE and maternity hospital.

The latest figures show 160 female prisoners were in custody in July - 124 in the Dóchas Centre and 36 in Limerick Prison.

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