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SA case highlights inadequate system for incarcerated mothers

By Gianna Huesch

A judge has lamented that South Australia is the only state in Australia without a jail unit for mothers and infants, as he revoked the suspended sentence of an Adelaide mother recently.

The pregnant mum had been on a good behaviour bond for a drug trafficking offence when she was arrested for importing prescription drugs that could be used in the production of the drug “ice”.

Already the mother of an 18-month old girl, the 15-weeks pregnant woman argued a prison term would cause hardship for her daughter and unborn child. She had previously asked the District Court not to impose an immediate prison term because her toddler would be traumatised and had been granted a bond involving community service rather than incarceration.

The judge however found the woman had chosen to reoffend while on the bond and revoked the mother’s suspended sentence. He found the toddler could be appropriately cared for by the woman’s family and partner and sentenced her to two years and seven months with a minimum of 12 months’ jail. She will be eligible for parole after 18 months in custody.

The case has drawn attention to the lack of facilities in South Australia’s prisons for infants and children to reside with their mother—the only state in the country which doesn’t provide for inmates to have infant children with them in custody. The judge noted “The state’s current position in relation to catering for incarcerated mothers with young children is undoubtedly inadequate”. However he did not find it amounted to exceptional circumstances to warrant a suspended term.

The mother’s lawyer pointed out the inadequacy of the current correctional system in SA and lack of state government interest in the issue. She said, “If there were changes to the custodial system it would help others who may find themselves in her client’s position”. She said her client’s young daughter and unborn child would suffer.

The Department for Correctional Services quoted as saying:

“There continues to progress a range of strategies around accommodating mothers and their children that include a mix of parenting programs, child/family reunification programs and increased visits.”

An example is a 24-bed facility recently commissioned at the Adelaide Pre-Release Centre, where women will be able to have six family visits a week and access reunification programs to assist with re-establishing their relationship with their children prior to being released.

Meanwhile, the jailed mother is to appeal on the question of whether or not there were special circumstances in her case.

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