Trial Of Campaigner Highlights Deaths In Women’s Prisons

The growing number of women taking their own lives while in prison will be highlighted this week when a leading campaigner is put on trial for protesting outside a jail.

{mosimage}Pauline Campbell, a former college lecturer, began to protest against conditions in women’s prisons after her daughter, Sarah, died of a drugs overdose at Styal prison in Cheshire. She has staged 26 protests outside jails across the country. One of her tactics is to try to block prison vans as they arrive at the gates.

In January Ms Campbell was arrested outside Eastwood Park, a closed prison in Gloucestershire, where mother-of-five Caroline Powell, 26, was found hanged in her cell. Originally Ms Campbell was charged with aggravated trespass, which can carry a prison term. This was reduced to obstructing the highway, for which the maximum penalty is £1,000 fine.

A leading human rights lawyer, Peter Thornton QC, is representing Ms Campbell at North Avon magistrates court, where the case will be heard by a district judge this week.

Ms Campbell’s daughter died in January 2003, the third of six women to die at Styal in 12 months.

Sarah had learning difficulties, was a heroin addict at 16 and had commited at least 28 acts of self-harm while previously on remand. She had just begun a three-year jail term for manslaughter when she took an overdose. An inquest jury decided that “a failure in duty of care” contributed to her death.

In an interview last year, Ms Campbell, of Malpas, Cheshire, said: “I still feel overwhelmed with anger at the way she was treated, and contrast those thoughts with the joy and happiness I felt at her birth.”

Ms Campbell has become a trustee of the Howard League for Penal Reform, and last week was protesting outside Send prison in Surrey where 25-year-old Lisa Doe was found hanged in her cell.

Seven women have been victims of “self-inflicted deaths” in prison this year, according to the Howard League – the same number as the combined total for last year and 2005. Overcrowding is blamed. In the past 10 years, 72 women have died.

The Howard League calls for the government to end prison for women in favour of community-based programmes and small, secure local units for women who are a real danger.

Sixty-seven men apparently took their own lives while in prison last year, while the figure for this year already stands at 68, the league says.