Rachel E. Bennett
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Britain has a long and storied history of crime and punishment, several chapters of which are dedicated to the experiences of those imprisoned for their crimes. Historically, prisons have been sites of intrigue and disdain and places of and for punishment. The conditions within have been staunchly defended, and rigorously criticised. The people occupying their cells have been variously viewed with curiosity, disdain, fear and pity. Women in prison, although consistently lower in number than men, have captured popular imagination and evoked medical, political and ideological debate. Cautionary tales of fallen women, and inspirational anecdotes of wayward women and rebels challenging the constraints placed upon them by society, have a long history. It is a history which has adapted in terms of context and language with the changing times, but one where the tropes of the mad, bad or sad female criminal have undoubtedly endured.

The modern prison system was created in the mid-nineteenth century. When we imagine life behind the high walls of the fortress-like prisons that were built or modified during that time, we conjure up scenes where strict regulation prevailed to control people in both body and mind, of locking and unlocking, of structures severe in both appearance and practice. An image that poses something of an antithesis, and one that can be difficult to reconcile with more popular imaginings of life in these carceral spaces, is that of mothers and their babies. Should pregnant women and mothers with babies be in prison? Are prisons appropriate places for their containment and care? Can they ever be? These are questions that continue to evoke debate today but have rarely been considered in a historical context.

This book is the first extensive historical examination of motherhood in prison. It has been written to offer a look behind the high walls of England's prisons and explore how mothers and their children posed distinct challenges to carceral spaces and penal regimes not designed with their containment in mind. It reveals the historic and enduring exigencies of confining motherhood, which even today have some resonance with current challenges facing the criminal justice system.

Rachel E. Bennett

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Motherhood confined

Maternal health in English prisons, 1853–1955


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