British Columbia used to have a program in place which permitted inmates to serve their prison sentence with their babies. Despite the untold benefits of accommodating the health needs of babies in the critical window of infancy, the program was eliminated. The reason cited by a prison official was the fact that infants did not fall within the purview of the correctional service. The Ministry of Children and Family Development was left with no other option but to “apprehend” babies previously in the care of their mothers and place them in foster care.
Currently, Ontario does not have a mother and baby program in place in correctional institutions but a recent case involving Julie Bilotta, a female prisoner who gave birth at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre, has sparked controversy in the province.
While the B.C. decision is not binding on Corrections Canada, a federal body, it is nonetheless influential in stating that women have the right of access to their children, whether behind bars or not. Proponents of the ruling, such as representatives from the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies have lauded the decision as an incremental step towards recognizing the plight of women in conflict with the law. However, there are others who have denounced it as privileging the rights of mothers over that of their babies.