Stephen Daisley Stephen Daisley

Women prisoners are being let down

Credit: Getty Images

The safety of women in prisons cannot be allowed to plummet back down the news agenda after the latest Sturgeon saga is over. Not least because today has seen the publication of a report into one women’s prison in Gloucestershire that makes for troubling reading. HMP Eastwood Park, which holds 348 women, was the subject of an unannounced inspection in October last year. Staff from HM Inspectorate of Prisons made several findings that you’d expect: high levels of mental ill health; backgrounds of criminality, homelessness and substance abuse; and prison understaffing. 

However, they found plenty more. There was ‘no central record or oversight of the number of women who had been segregated, the reasons why or for how long’. The unit appeared to be used to house women ‘who could not be placed elsewhere in the jail, due to their mental health needs or associated behaviour’. One veteran inspector described the treatment and conditions of women in the segregation unit as ‘the worst that he had seen’.

The write-up notes that ‘rates of self-harm were very high and increasing’ – up 128 per cent since 2019 – and that women who are ‘acutely mentally unwell’ were being kept in ‘an appalling environment that failed to provide therapeutic support’. Of the 28 recommendations made during the last inspection (2019), seven had only been partially achieved and 12 had not been achieved at all. Worryingly, inspectors found that the use of force against the women ‘had increased significantly and we were not confident it was always used as a last resort’. By significantly, they mean up 75 per cent in the space of three years. In a prisoner survey, 27 per cent reported feeling ‘threatened or intimidated’ by staff. 

The report characterises the state of the cells as ‘appalling, dilapidated and covered in graffiti’.

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