Women prisoners with mental health issues face ‘appalling’ conditions in jail, says report
Women prisoners suffering serious mental ill health are being segregated in cells with scratches and bloodstains on the walls, a watchdog report has revealed.
Charlie Taylor, chief inspector of prisons, said no prisoner “let alone women” should be held in “such terrible conditions,” which one of his inspectors said were the worst he had ever seen.
He said one cell block at HMP Eastwood Park in Gloucestershire was being used to house women who could not be placed anywhere else in the jail due to the seriousness of their mental health problems or associated behaviour.
“The cells were appalling, dilapidated and covered in graffiti, one was blood-splattered, and some had extensive scratches on the walls which reflected the degree of trauma previous residents must have experienced,” said Mr Taylor.
“No prisoner should be held in such conditions, let alone women who were acutely unwell and in great distress.”
He said he was also “deeply concerned” about the welfare of staff who, while dedicated and courageous, were not sufficiently trained or qualified to support women in such mental distress.
As a result, the inspectors gave the prison their “lowest grade for safety” which Mr Taylor said was “very unusual” for a women’s prison even though 83 per cent of the female inmates said they were suffering from mental health difficulties.
The inspection report came just days after the Government unveiled its updated strategy to reduce the number of women sent to prison and to overhaul conditions.
Rates of self-harm had more than doubled and two women prisoners had taken their own lives through self-inflicted injuries since the previous inspection in 2019.
Lack of activities
Women blamed their self-harming on boredom because of the lack of activities, being locked up in their cells for too long and lack of family contact.
They also cited difficulties in getting the basic solutions to problems. “Parcels from family members took a long time to clear, women could not buy clothes from within the prison and I met one prisoner who had to borrow a bra from her cellmate because nothing was available,” said Mr Taylor.
“These problems are not exclusive to Eastwood Park and it is an ongoing indictment of the prison service that women are so often unable to get suitable underwear or clothing and have to rely on wearing tracksuits and other items bought from the male estate.”
More than a third said it was easy to get hold of illegal drugs and 87 per cent of illicit items found in the past year had been drug-related.
The prison usually held nearly 400 women prisoners, covering the south-west of England and south Wales.
A prison service spokesman said: “This is a deeply concerning report and we are already addressing the serious issues it raises, including appointing more staff and creating a new taskforce to improve women’s safety at the prison.”