Bristol Anarchist Black Cross, campaigning for prison reform have also recently started a blog. Their main story at present seems to be a critique of Venue for apparently attacking prisons campaigner, Pauline Campbell.
Perhaps they missed this article from March’s Venue about Ms Campbell and her work?
23 march 2007
SAFETY FEARS FOR WOMEN PRISONERS
Self-inflicted injuries, attempted suicides and deaths are a common occurrence at Eastwood Park Women’s Prison. Anne-Marie Rogers asks if the authorities are doing enough to address the situation.
An unannounced inspection of Eastwood Park Women’s Prison and Young Offenders Institute, South Gloucestershire, in March 2006 found that “there had been no co-ordinated learning from previous deaths in custody”. Since then two more women at the prison have died of apparently self-inflicted injuries.
The first, Lisa Woodhall, died in October 2006 aged 28. More recently, Caroline Powell, a 26 year old mother of five, died on 5 January 2007 while being held at the prison on remand. Inquests into the two deaths have yet to take place.
Last year the inquest into the death of Justine Rees at Eastwood Park heard how she had died of an overdose of illegal drugs in June 2005. The coroner recorded a verdict of accidental death.
Sadly, these thre cases are not unusual. There were 432 self-harm incidents in January 2006 involving 36 women, most involving the use of ligatures and self-inflicted cuts.
Eastwood Park is a local women’s closed prison with capacity for 362 women, young offenders and children, serving the west of England and South Wales. The prison opened a detoxification unit in 2003, a mother and baby unit in 2004 and, in October 2005, the Mary Carpenter Unit, which holds girls under 18.
The prison received a critical inspection report in 2004, and the unannounced reinspection last year highlighted a range of failings at the prison. It stated that “there continued to be insufficient attention to first night procedures (when many suicides occur), levels of self-harm remained exceptionally high and there was still no coordinated learning from previous deaths in custody. Anti-bullying procedures needed attention” and concluded that “Staff were still hard pressed to ensure the safety of some very damaged and needy women”.
Andy Brown, a project worker for Community Links for Ex-Offenders based in Hartcliffe, regularly visits women from the South Bristol area in the prison. He says women offenders are particularly affected by their time in custody, as they tend to be further away from their homes – there are fewer female prisons. Their home life often falls apart while they are inside – unlike male offenders who often have a woman at home to keep things together. The main concerns of the women he sees are “staffing levels, bullying and lack of activities to occupy them outside of cells”
Many of the women in the prison’s care are vulnerable – of the 4,334 women in prison in England and Wales, 70 % suffer from two or more mental disorders and many have been victims of childhood abuse, sexual abuse and domestic violence. Some 55% test positive for class A drugs on arrival in custody.
Prison insiders talked to Venue about a culture of bullying that left many women isolated. Much bullying occurs when time out of cells is twinned with a lack of purposeful activities – which is the case at Eastwood Park.
There is lack of staff on some wings and staff are not properly trained to deal with the womens’ drug issues, which has a big impact on reoffending rates and prisoner rehabilitation. The reinspection stated that ” although the new detoxification unit was providing a good initial service, prison officers lacked training and follow-up care was limited”.
All this leads prison reform campaigners to ask whether many of these women should be in prison in the first place. Around 90% of women are imprisoned for non-violent crimes and, according to the Home Office, the courts are imposing more severe sentences on women for less serious offences.
A Prison Service spokeswoman says: “Custody remains appropriate for women who are serious or persistent offenders. However … we are aware that there are people in prison who ought not to be there, including vulnerable women. The Government is keen to encourage greater use of community alternatives for women wherever possible”.
The director of the Prison Reform Trust, Juliet Lyon, says: “So many women in prison are mentally ill. So few have committed violent or serious crimes. So much of their offending is a public health, rather than a criminal justice, concern. This long standing problem could be solved, not by investing in more women’s prisons, but by providing diversion at police stations and courts, mental health care, drug treatment, debt counselling and women’s support and supervision centres across the country.”
With two recent deaths, a drug related death within the prison and high self-harm rates, is the prison doing enough to ensure the safety of the inmates? A Prison Service spokeswoman told Venue: “Eastwood Park has done a lot to improve its care of vulnerable women. The Prison staff work hard to ensure women are kept safe and have established good working relationships with the prisoners. Eastwood Park has introduced a Carousel Course, delivered by clinical psychologists, which has a proven success rate where participants have dramatically reduced self-harm or stopped completely”.
This may have come too late for the families of Justine Rees, Lisa Woodhall and Caroline Powell but we will have to wait to see whether it can improve things for the women and children currently in the care of Eastwood Park.
ONE MOTHER’S CAMPAIGN: PAULINE CAMPBELL
Less than 24 hours after arriving at Styal Prison, Cheshire, Sarah Campbell was dead. “She told them that she’d taken the pills but they just locked her in a cell on her own”. says Sarah’s mother, Pauline Campbell.
The jury who heard Sarah’s shocking case said that there had been a failure in the duty of care which contributed to her death. After a long battle led by her mother, last year the Home Office finally conceded liability for Sarah’s death.
After Sarah’s death in 2003, Pauline Campbell, a retired teacher, started demonstrating outside prison’s where women had died. Since 2003 she has organised 21 demonstrations and has been arrested 14 times, most recently during a demonstration outside Eastwood Park prison following the death of Caroline Powell. She is due to appear at North Avon Magistrates’ Court 30 March.
She initially undertook the campaign to honour her daughter’s memory, then she felt the need to raise public awareness about the continuing suffering and deaths of women in prison. She feels that with her professional background she is in a more powerful position than many of the other bereaved families to challenge the authorities.
It was her campaign about deaths at Styal – there were six deaths between August 2002 and 2003- that led Baroness Jean Corston, former MP for Bristol East, to undertake a review into the provision for vulnerable women in the criminal justice system. The review is due to be published in March and is expected to be a damning indictment on the jailing of vulnerable women.
“There have been 34 deaths since Sarah, mostly mothers, it’s just not acceptable” says Pauline, “Just look at how we’re treating vulnerable women in the 21st century. We need fewer people in prison and to improve the staff/inmate ratio because the legal duty of care is not being upheld”.