Cells in women’s prison should be shut down unless radical changes made

Cells in a women’s prison have been branded “not fit for purpose” by inspectors who found “rows” of inmates peering out from behind locked doors into a dark corridor.

The chief inspector of prisons said three units at HMP Eastwood Park were “completely inappropriate” and should be shut down unless “radical” changes were made.

In his latest inspection report on the prison near Bristol, which holds up to 430 inmates, Peter Clarke said: “On entering these units, I was immediately struck by the sight of rows of women’s faces pressed against the open observation hatches of their locked doors, peering out into the narrow, dark, cell block corridor.

“It was as if they were waiting for something, or indeed anything, to happen, however mundane, to relieve the monotony of their existence.

“Unless something radical can be done to improve the conditions on these units, then serious consideration should be given to closing them.

“At present they are simply not fit for purpose.”

Some 47% of prisoners in the units told inspectors it was easy to get drugs in the prison and one in five said they had developed a drug problem since being incarcerated there. About 73% of prisoners said they had mental health problems.

He also raised concerns about the large numbers of women who were released homeless.

In the months leading up to the inspection, which took place in May, a “worryingly high” 42% of women were left either to live on the streets or go to temporary emergency accommodation on release.

Mr Clarke said: “I spoke to several prisoners who had previously experienced this and had either reoffended or felt it was inevitable that they would do so if released again in similar circumstances.

“In many ways this is an issue that is beyond the control of the prison, but more support does need to be given before release.”

Half of inmates were more than 50 miles from home, given the prison’s large catchment area which includes much of Wales, and over a third never received any visits, he said.

Overall the prison was regarded as “safe, respectful and purposeful”.

Dr Jenny Earle, from the Prison Reform Trust, said: “The cause of at least some of Eastwood Park prison’s failings lie outside its walls in the lack of housing and mental health support for women in the community.

“It is shocking that inspectors found that more than two in five women were being released homeless-only increasing the likelihood that they will return back to custody.

“Over a year on since the publication of the Government’s Female Offender Strategy, this report suggests that progress in key areas remains disappointingly slow.

“Women are still too often being set up to fail.”

Phil Copple, director general of prisons, said: “We have acted quickly on the inspector’s findings on some of the prison units, launching a full review and working urgently with our maintenance contractor to fix the issues.”

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Andrew Milligan / PA Wire.

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