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The University of Southampton

New research into how women prisoners cope with motherhood

Published: 19 April 2004

University of Southampton forensic psychatrist Dr Luke Birmingham and his team are about to embark on a study of the mental health of imprisoned mothers who have young children. It will build on their earlier work on specialist mother and baby units within the prison system.

"Across the country, there are only places for 74 mothers and babies in specialist units. Admission criteria to the units are strict and many mothers cannot have their young children with them," said Dr Birmingham.

"When we studied the mental health of women in prison mother and baby units, we were surprised to find relatively low rates of mental health problems. We now need to extend this work to the estimated 200 imprisoned mothers elsewhere in the system who are not with their young children."

The Sir Jules Thorn Charitable Trust has awarded £10,000 to finance a pilot study, it is hoped other grants will enable the work to be extended.

Dr Birmingham, along with colleagues at the Universities of Manchester and Sheffield and the Institute of Psychiatry in London, has also secured £1 million in research grants to investigate further mental health issues within prisons.

The Department of Health acknowledges 90 per cent of prisoners have some kind of mental health and/or substance abuse problems. Among young offenders and juveniles this figure rises to 95 per cent.

Research work will start by establishing an academic and research base within the prison system to enable effective study. It will also look at how community mental health teams are working within prisons and if they are successfully engaging people with serious mental illness who need help.

The current prison population is around 73,000. Around four thousand are women.

Notes for editors

The University of Southampton is a leading UK teaching and research institution with a global reputation for leading-edge research and scholarship. The University has over 19,200 students and 4,800 staff and plays an important role in the City of Southampton. Its annual turnover is in the region of £250 million.

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