05/27/2013 12:41 EDT | Updated 07/27/2013 05:12 EDT

B.C. moms sue province for halting babies in jail program

A B.C. Supreme Court case is underway in Vancouver to determine if mothers in jail will be allowed to care for their infants.

Five women and two of their children launched a constitutional challenge after the mother-baby program at Maple Ridge's Alouette Correctional Centre for Women was cancelled in 2008, arguing that halting the program infringed on their human rights.

Without the program, babies are taken from their incarcerated moms and placed in temporary care — a practice the mothers say deprives them of the ability to nurture and bond with their infants.

Officials have said the safety of the infants was key in the decision to scrap the program.

The West Coast Women's Legal Education and Action Fund is intervening in the case. Executive director Kasari Govender said there's more to the issue than just constitutionality.

"If we can create more opportunities for healing and for growth in prison centres, try to reduce recidivism rates, and try to keep children out of the child protection service, this will benefit society,” she said.

“It will cost us less both socially and economically."

Govender said the babies and their mothers stayed in a different part of the jail, which was decorated more like a nursery, where the babies slept with their mothers.

The trial began Monday in Vancouver and is expected to continue for four weeks.