Chief prisons inspector sparks fresh concern over the use of special cells

    Anne Owers has attacked the use of special cells at Styal prison in
    an inspection report that reveals how several women were stripped
    under restraint and placed in bare cells on the segregation unit.

    The chief inspector of prison’s criticisms follow the revelation
    earlier this year that special cells had been used 154 times for
    juveniles in 13 young offenders institutions.

    This was despite earlier claims by the Home Office that there was
    only one cell used for this age group (news, page 6, 15
    January).

    At the time, the Howard League for Penal Reform condemned the use
    of the cells for vulnerable young people, and Owers pledged to
    monitor the use of the cells, describing them as an “extreme
    sanction”.

    In her latest report, Owers says she is “particularly concerned”
    about the frequency and length of use of the special cells for
    women and young offenders restrained in the Cheshire jail.

    “Women were held for lengthy periods – an average of seven and a
    half hours – sometimes long after records showed that they had
    calmed down,” she says. One in 10 were held for more than 12
    hours.

    The inspector also expressed concern at the use of the cells for
    self-harmers, which is against Prison Service guidance.

    The report reveals that the “extreme facility” was used 44 times in
    the year before inspection and that, in 11 cases, no reason was
    given for placing the women there.

    She highlights several instances where women were stripped under
    restraint and placed in the cells. However, there was no recorded
    risk assessment and no use of alternative measures.

    Owers reiterates her belief that special cells should be a facility
    to allow people to calm down and not be “a long-term holding
    facility”.

    Frances Crook, Howard League for Penal Reform director, attacked
    the use of cells as “completely inappropriate for women”.

    She called for the head of the Prison Service to write to the
    courts telling them not to send women to Styal as it was
    unsafe.

    There have been six self-inflicted deaths at Styal in 18 months.

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