Jail care for kids
THE days of babies growing up behind bars are over
This was said by Correctional Services Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula yesterday, when she launched the country's first prison mother-and-baby unit at Cape Town's Pollsmoor Prison.
Situated on the prison grounds, but more than a kilometre from the cells housing the rest of the prison population, the unit is a simply but cheerfully decorated house with several bedrooms, bathrooms and a kitchen.
It was renovated by male prisoners from Pollsmoor, who also made the furniture.
The unit will allow female prisoners who give birth while in jail to share proper rooms with their babies for the first time. Until now, babies born in prison had to spent the first two years of their lives in small, cold cells with their mothers in the main female prisoners' block, with little access to fresh air and sunlight.
There are nine mothers with babies set to move into the unit next week, including one, who will give birth in five days time.
The mother, who did not want to be named, said she was looking forward to "drinking coffee on the stoep", though Correctional Services officials warned the female prisoners yesterday that the facility was not a "nice guesthouse".
Mapisa-Nqakula said she was negotiating with another five female prisoners with babies from Oudtshoorn, about 500km away, to move into the new facility.
"The prison system remained unprepared for the rehabilitation needs of women. We don't want a child's early memory of her mother to be that of a person in chains.
"There is no need to punish a child because the mother made a mistake," Mapisa-Nqakula said.
Later this month Westville prison in KwaZulu-Natal, Zonderwater prison in Gauteng and the East London prison will get mother-and-baby units.
But, the mothers won't be able to keep their children for more than two years. Mapisa-Nqakula said prisoners would have to decide on foster families as soon as their children were born.
The foster mother would then visit the mother regularly for the first two years to form a bond with the child.