Escorting pregnant prisoners —the experiences of women and staff:‘Quite a lot of us like doing it, because you get to see a baby, or you get to see a birth’
It is understood that pregnant women make up around 6% of the female prison population although precise numbers are not collated. There are limited qualitative studies published that document the experiences of pregnancy whilst serving a prison sentence. The gap in the evidence necessitated qualitative, ethnographic research of the pregnancy experience. The study took place during 2015-2016 and involved non-participant observation and semi-structured interviews with 28 female prisoners in three English prisons who were pregnant or had recently given birth. Ten members of prison and health care staff were also interviewed. One key theme which evolved from interviews with staff were their experiences of being on ‘bed watch’ with pregnant or labouring women. Additionally, a new typology of prison officer has emerged from this study: the ‘maternal’; a member of prison staff who accompanies pregnant, labouring women to hospital where the role of ‘bed watch officer’ can become that of a birth supporter. The officer (s) attending pregnant women in hospital have an important role to play and may have been ‘chosen’ by the woman. This paper provides narratives of these experiences and discusses the relationship of the bed watch officer who may be both guarding and supporting the woman. Pseudonyms are used throughout.