Incarcerated woman separated from infant due to unsuitable prison conditions

A woman who gave birth in Istanbul’s Bakirkoy Prison three months ago is now separated from her breastfeeding baby due to unsuitable prison conditions, the Gazete Duvar news website reported.

Şebnem Nuray Şavkın handed over her then-2-month-old baby to her family because she was moved to a one-person cell, whose conditions were not suitable for an infant. Since being separated from her baby, Savkin’s mental health has worryingly deteriorated, with rights activists calling on authorities for urgent reforms to accommodate mothers with babies in prison.

According to Özge Akyüz from the Civil Society in the Penal System (CİSST), Şavkın was moved to a one-person cell because she had psychological problems and there was a risk she could harm herself. However, her current cell has worsened her mental state as there are no windows and limited contact with other people.

“Şavkın is only allowed to speak to her family once a week for 10 minutes on the phone,” she said. “She is still lactating but has to dispose of the milk in the sink. All these things have had a negative impact on her mental health.”

Akyüz said separating a mother from her baby is an “additional punishment” on top of the prison sentence, and a punishment for the infant as well. Therefore, immediate reforms are needed in prisons to accommodate babies and young children.

Helin Akyol, who is also from CİSST, said Şavkın was kept in poor conditions and wasn’t receiving any medical support to recover from her psychological problems. Akyol added that most prisons in Turkey were not suitable for sick inmates and that prison reform was urgently needed.

Although prisons have wards for sick inmates, they were not designed to meet the physical and mental needs of their residents. Furthermore, inmates do not have regular access to doctors, medical examinations or physical therapy.

“Şavkın, like many other sick inmates, is kept in a filthy cell that is not suitable for someone in her condition. Inmates like Şavkın, who suffer from mental illness, do not receive the necessary treatment, and a one-person cell only aggravates their problems,” Akyol said.

She called on authorities to immediately facilitate treatment for Şavkın and put her in a cell that can accommodate her baby so the mother and child are no longer separated.

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