Ex-inmates fighting for mom & babies in jail

Maple Ridge women's prison piloted a program that allowed inmates to care for their babies while incarcerated but it's since been scrapped

The pilot program originated at ACCW in Maple Ridge in 2004.

A battle to reinstate a program that allowed mothers to care for their babies while incarcerated in a Maple Ridge prison began Monday in B.C. Supreme Court.

The constitutional challenge was filed five years ago after the program at the Alouette Correctional Centre for Women was suddenly shut down.

In his opening argument, lawyer Geoffrey Cowper noted the program’s cancellation violated his clients’ rights.

“Our goal is to have the program restored,” Cowper said in an earlier interview.

Cowper is representing Amanda Inglis and her son Damien, as well as Patricia Block and her daughter Amber. Both women were former inmates at Alouette, but had their children taken away from them after birth.

The mother-baby program began at the provincial prison, on Alouette Road off 249th Street, not long after it opened in April 2004. The four-year-experiment saw 12 mothers live with their children inside the prison fences. Of the 12, three mother-baby pairs were aboriginal.

B.C. Corrections ended the program in 2008, citing an increase in prison population and the safety of infants for its demise. Since then, 22 inmates have given birth to babies who were placed in foster care or with relatives after they were born.

For the West Coast Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF), which is intervening in the case, the issue is more than a violation of constitutional rights.

“We think there are lots of benefits to the program,” said executive director Kasari Govender.

The lawsuit claims the cancellation of the program deprives babies of the health benefits of breast milk and denies women incarcerated at Alouette the opportunity to bond with their babies.

Govender notes aboriginal mothers are disproportionately affected by its cancellation because they account for a large percentage of inmates incarcerated in prison.

“We also say that it’s an issue of security of the person,” Govender added.

“By that we meant the cancellation of the program has detrimental impacts on both the physical and psychological well-being of moms and babies.”

B.C. Corrections has previously said the program was cancelled because the population at Alouette had more than doubled since it first opened.

As a result of the population increase, corrections staff felt that having infants in a prison environment was no longer safe.

The babies and their mothers stayed in a different part of the jail, and throughout its trial run there were no incidents that jeopardized the infants’ safety or put them at risk.

Unlike West Coast LEAF, the Elizabeth Fry Society of Greater Vancouver, which advocates for women in prison, rather see new mothers kept out of prison instead of having the program reinstated.

“Is prison the best place to give children a start in life? Should these women have been incarcerated in the first place,” executive director Shawn Bayes writes in an article that considers sentencing alternatives.

The Elizabeth Fry Society and B.C. Corrections are now working together to identify affected women, develop sentencing alternatives in the community for judges to consider, and enable women to serve their sentence in the community and raise their child.

“Custody for pregnant women and mothers of young children should only ever be used as a last resort,” says Bayes.

The trial is expected to last four weeks.

Just Posted

Angry Inuk season finale for Cinema Politica Ridge Meadows

Film examines the impact of anti-seal-hunt campaigns on the lives of the Inuit

Mad Hatter’s High Tea for mental health in Maple Ridge

The second annual Mad Hatter’s Parade and Tea Party will take place May 26

Birds of a feather coming together for Maple Ridge art gallery

The ACT Art Gallery’s annual fundraiser TeaGarden! takes place May 27

Face pies for $5, all for a good cause

Managers at Save-On-Foods, ValleyFair Mall location have volunteered their faces as targets to raise money for B.C. Children’s Hospital

Maple Ridge tech company will power Uber Elevate

Moli and Uber announce RD partnership

Rachel Notley to skip premiers conference to focus on pipeline deal

Kinder Morgan has ceased all non-essential spending on the Trans Mountain pipeline project until it receives assurances

UPDATE: Woman dies in ocean accident near Tofino hours before daughter’s wedding

“We are so thankful to everyone who helped our mom.”

Olympian sues USA Swimming, saying it failed to protect her

Ariana Kukors Smith alleges her former coach Sean Hutchison began grooming her for sexual abuse at the age of 13

Defence minister thanks troops for B.C. flood relief work

Harjit Sajjan says not only was military response quick, support from locals has been ‘tremendous’

Arrest made in last week’s double shooting in East Van

Carleton Stevens, 37, is charged with attempted murder and remains in custody

Couple survives being buried in mudslide on B.C. highway

The couple, from Saskatchewan, were en route to Nelson when a tree fell in their path

‘So grateful:’ Injured Bronco hockey player glad he’s alive, works on recovery

Ryan Straschnitzki was badly hurt in the accident: a spinal injury, broken ribs, a broken collar bone, and punctured lung

PHOTOS: Floodwaters rise and fall in Grand Forks

The flood-ravaged Kootenay-Boundary region begins to heal

Most Read