Styal deaths probe highlights failures

An investigation into six deaths in Styal women’s prison in
Cheshire has identified “serious inadequacies”.

In August 2003, prisons minister Paul Goggins commissioned the
prisons and probation ombudsman to investigate the circumstances
around the death of Julie Walsh and five other women in the
previous 12 months.

The main findings show that the women all died soon after being
admitted, two of them having been there for only a day. Three had a
history of mental health problems.

The prison’s detoxification regime at the time of the deaths was
considered inadequate to treat severely dependent users. Meanwhile,
its in-patient mental health facility was seen as valuable but “in
need of a review in light of pressures on health care staff and the
health care needs of the prison”.

The report comes a week after chief prisons inspector Anne Owers
published her annual report which claimed “the needs of women are
acute and in danger of being neglected or disregarded”.

All the recommendations on Styal, including reviews to look at
spending at the prison and improve time out of cells, are being
acted on.

In addition, the government has established the women’s offending
reduction programme to co-ordinate and implement a programme of
work to address the factors affecting women’s offending, including
mental health problems and substance misuse.

A priority is to ensure that custody is used only for women who
need to be in prison. Some will also benefit from the part-time
prisons pilot, which started this week.

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