Ombudsman calls for reduction of women in prison

The use of prison for vulnerable female offenders should be reduced according to the prisons ombudsman this week.

Publishing his report into the death of Julie Walsh at Styal prison, which took into consideration the deaths of five other women at the establishment, Stephen Shaw concluded that imprisonment for women should be reduced.

“I share the view of virtually everyone I have spoken to during this investigation – staff, prisoners, relatives, outside interests – that the current use of imprisonment as reflected in Styal, Holloway and the other women’s prisons, is disproportionate, ineffective and unkind.”

Shaw’s report highlights that all six women who died, did so within a short period of admission to Styal and five out of six were located on Waite Wing. He stressed that both the physical environment and regime offered on this wing need to improve.

He added that the role and staffing of Styal’s in-patient mental health facility needed to be reviewed.

Pauline Campbell, whose daughter Sarah died in Styal in 2003 aged 18-years-old, said that as the report had taken two years to publish it was “at best an out-of-date document”.

The report was finalised when only one of the six inquests had take place but promises were made that the report would be published after the final inquest although that was held seven months ago, she said.

“Overall the dilatory response of the Prison Service and the Home Office is disgraceful, given that six women lost their lives in a 12-month period at Styal,” said Campbell.

“No explanation was ever forthcoming about why the then prisons minister Paul Goggins waited until six deaths had occurred before sending in the ombudsman to investigate.”

“The whole business leaves an ugly stain on the record of the Prison Service and the Home Office,” she concluded.


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