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

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

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

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

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

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

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