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Baby prisoners – How they fair in captivity

By Sereba Agiobu-Kemmer
19 June 2016   |   6:21 am
Last Thursday of every month for the past fifteen years or more, finds one on visitation to the prisons in Lagos State, as a member of a humanitarian organisation.
Wife of Vice President, Dolapo Osinbajo carrying a baby prisoner during her recent visit

Wife of Vice President, Dolapo Osinbajo carrying a baby prisoner during her recent visit

Last Thursday of every month for the past fifteen years or more, finds one on visitation to the prisons in Lagos State, as a member of a humanitarian organisation. March 31, 2016, the last Thursday of the month found one on visitation to the Female Prisons, Kirikiri, Apapa, Lagos. It is exclusive for female inmates and was built in 1963. It was for a long time, the only female prison in Nigeria. However, it is not only inhabited by female inmates; sometimes, their children also live there.

The Road To Jail

The road to jail for children prisoners could sometimes be inadvertent. Some female prisoners only get to know they are pregnant while tests are carried out preparatory to admission, upon conviction or detention, for those awaiting trial.

As of the time of visit, all the 10 nursing mothers happen to be Awaiting Trial Persons; they have legal representations, but cannot meet bail conditions. For instance, Ruth, a house help, arrested for alleged stealing was given bail term of N500, 000 with two sureties in like sum. She gave birth in prison. The baby is six weeks old. She lacks legal representation and sureties.

Seun is being held for fraud; her bail term is N500, 000 with two sureties in like sum. She is with a one-year-old child. She has legal representation, who with her husband are working assiduously to meet the bail term, but for how long?

Kehinde was arrested for stealing and granted bail sum of N35, 000 and two sureties in like amount. She is nursing an eight-month old baby and has legal representation.

To the outside world, it is more of a mystery how female inmates end up having children while in seclusion. This fuels the perception that some male handlers end up impregnating them.

Deputy Controller of Prisons, Mrs. Elizabeth Ekpendu, denies such insinuation. According to her, the female prisons is out of bounds to all males, whether security personnel or male prisoners and it is impregnable.

She said: ‘‘when people see pregnant women in prison, they feel prison officers impregnated them. This is a female prison and no male prison officer is allowed to work inside this yard. The armed mobile police stay outside for extra security and safety of all residents, including inmates and staff, because we operate without arms, not even batons, as that is old school.

“If you have committed a crime, pregnant or not, you can be jailed. Nursing mother or not, you are jailed if you have committed a crime; the court jails the adult not the child. Some will come to prison with three or four kids, we accept the infant and send the others away to relatives. Some will claim not to have relatives, so they are taken back to court, and will be jailed on conditional bail. So the court does not say a pregnant person or a person with a baby cannot be jailed. So we receive nursing mothers and pregnant women; we don’t reject them, the law does not say we should. So if you see babies in prison, either their mothers came in pregnant or came in with the baby. We carry out medical examination before new inmates are taken in. In the process of the medical examination some become aware they are pregnant, because we conduct pregnancy tests. We record when the person came and how many months. It is then some of them know they are pregnant, some one month, six weeks.”

As an aside, one gets is that many of these ATPs are languishing in jail for inability to meet the bail conditions. It is almost impossible. It is noteworthy that most ATPs are indigent, poverty-stricken. Unfortunately for them, crimes like traffic offence and stealing carry jail term of three to six months. Some of these people have already spent longer than that. Such is the case of Deola, not real name, who came in last August accused of stealing from her employer. She came in one month pregnant and gave birth to her baby in March this year, her second child. She has legal representative, but has been unable to meet her bail conditions and the court process appears slow.

With the help of ‘partners’ sick inmates can be looked after in the small ward. There is a delivery room where babies are delivered. If inmates need surgery like caesarian section (C.S.), they are taken out of the prison to hospitals where such surgeries can be performed, like the Island Maternity Hospital. Counseling is done by the social psychologist (who is a prison staff) and by NGOs and religious organisations. But there is no psychiatrist, and inmates needing such attention have to be taken to the Psychiatric hospital at Yaba. Medical supplies from the Nigerian Prisons Services are scanty like everything else, because of the paucity of funds.

The smooth running and successful implementation of its activities and programs can be attributed to the tremendous support being given by the group of ‘external partners” and the ingenuity of the officer in-charge, Ekpendu.

They ensure provision for everything pertaining to inmate needs when it is realised that the NPS budget is specifically for convicted inmates, who by statistics are only just 30 per cent of the residents and has to be shared with the 70 per cent that are ATPs. That, perhaps, explains the enormity that warrants intervention of ‘‘external partners”, and this according to the testimony of the officers is tremendous.

Children in prisons are nursed with no provisions made for their welfare or for the nursing mothers and expectant inmates by the authorities, because it wasn’t foreseen that they could be in prison. These babies, the nursing mothers and expectant ones are dependent on the generosity of ‘donors’ and the relentless drive of those in charge to engage such partners to meet the needs of its ‘residents’ whether they are convicted, awaiting trial persons, pregnant, nursing mothers and babies.

Nursing mothers, their babies are accommodated in a separate wing. There is a crèche with staff supervising their care during the day, to allow their mothers take part in activities and programs, especially the educational.

In terms of welfare, pregnant women, nursing mothers need special care and attention. They need antenatal and post-natal care, safe delivery and special diet and food supplements. Babies need weaning foods and all need regular medical checks.

In some regard, one could almost say, in comparison to the general population, that they have access to Medicare. Recently, Ekpendu, in collaboration with ‘partners’ expanded the facilities with a medical laboratory and medical storage for supplies, a community health centre, just outside the premises that is being run by the Ward Health Committee of Oriade Local Council Health unit in conjunction with the WHO immunization program. It is like killing two birds with one stone. There is now established a symbiotic relationship with the local community. There is no more stress of finding money for transportation and taking mothers and their babies to the far away Oriade local council health centre as that service is now right at the prison’s doorstep. The newly built health centre, laboratory, fully equipped gymnasium, pavilions in the courtyard where the ‘residents’ can sit out relax, play games, protected from scorching sun during their open-out hours were commissioned by wife of President Buhari, Hajia Fatima Buhari, who was represented by the vice president’s wife, Mrs. Dolapo Osinbajo, wife of the Vice President earlier this year (February 2016). Though, she was not happy that pregnant women, nursing mothers and their babies should be in such predicament, she was however impressed with the standard of the institution’s facilities and its management. That was the first visit by a first lady of the nation.

In a chat with a Social Psychologist, Mrs. Chinyere Obiwuru, on provisions for children whose cradle is spent in prisons, she said; “The issue of babies in prison is something that is very sensitive; in the sense that if you look at it from the humanitarian angle, it is not acceptable and also from the legal point of view. It is not acceptable in different areas. It is not acceptable that a child should serve a term of imprisonment with the mother. The child is innocent, had not committed an offence, so she should be out of the prison.

‘‘But on humanitarian grounds, a baby when born needs the care of the mother. The baby needs to be breastfed up to a certain time, even these days that we are promoting exclusive breastfeeding, for the first one year; some are saying first two years, you see that it is necessary for the baby to stay with the mother for those tender years. And we have found out that babies who stay with their mothers for the first one year to 18 months are better citizens when they grow up, unlike those who are deprived the attention of their mothers.

“So, in line with it, the prisons have the provision that we can allow mothers to stay with their babies for up to 18 months. When the baby is now 18 months, you can send him to the appropriate person that will take care of him/her, be it relative, orphanage that can take proper care of the baby, even foster home until the mother leaves the prison. What we do is that we allow them to stay with their baby, by the time it is getting to 18 months, we counsel the mother to minimize the trauma of separation. We will tell the person from the onset to prepare their minds so that they will make arrangement. It’s either their relative comes to take the baby at 18 months or when there is nobody coming for that child, we still close our eyes and leave the baby for two years. But after two years definitely, we can’t leave them, because at that time, the baby is beginning to be aware of his environment and we don’t want them to have the feel that they have been in prison. So we make alternative arrangement once nobody is coming for the child, we take the child to foster homes, or orphanages until the mother leaves the prison.”

In terms of education for female prisoners, some provision is made in formal and occupational training, where they are empowered to be employable and self-reliant when they leave prison to be re-integrated back into the society.

But Epkendu thinks there should be better ways of handling female prisoners. “If things were left to me, I will open those gates and let every resident out. It is high time the criminal justice system sought for alternative ways of punishing female offenders. Imprisonment should be the last resort, especially with inmates who come in for minor offences such as, petty thieving, loitering, domestic violence, other offences considered not to be life-threatening. But while they are here, we take care of everyone, which includes pregnant women, nursing mothers and their little children,” she said.

Mrs. Funke Adekoya (SAN) told The Guardian that presently, the legal framework of the justice system does not provide for children in prison.

According to her, the Prisons Act, Cap P29, LFN 2004 that provides for special categories of persons such as the insane or invalids, fails to specifically provide for babies in prisons.

According to experts, the Social Welfare Department in the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development was established to ensure the provision of integrated and quality Social Services, which include, relief of distress for the vulnerable, and provision of enabling environment for social progress. The welfare of mother and child is supposed to be priority of the Department in the prison system, to provide a safe environment for the baby to develop its physical and mental capacities to the fullest.

In contrast to what obtains is the Child Rights Act, which stipulates that the best interest of the child shall be the primary consideration in every action and such child shall be given such protection and care necessary for the well-being of the child.

A clinical psychologist at the Federal Neuro Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba, Lagos, Ayo Ajayi, had this to say on the effect of prison life on pregnant mothers and children.

“Women who are pregnant whilst in prison have particular health and nutrition needs. In some countries, women prisoners are shackled during childbirth, or are guarded by male prison guards. The rights of both mothers and babies need to be considered in relation to pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, pre-natal and post-natal care in prison. The presumption should be that babies should remain with their mothers unless there are compelling reasons for separating them. The inextricable link between anxiety and stress in the mother and the physical and emotional well-being of the baby needs to be recognised.”

According to him; “Children born to women while in prison may have to be weaned before separating them from their mothers. However, this period from pregnancy to weaning may have grave consequence on the child’s psychological and social adjustment then and later in life.”

He identified some of the issues related to children living in prison with their mother include; separation, which may lead to disruption of secured bond/attachment formation and problem with family stability. Others are, persistent disadvantage in terms of poor education and financial circumstances, substance abuse, mental illness, or other behavioral problems arising from poor parenting or maternal neglect/deprivation and domestic abuse.