Public inquiry into prison treatment of self-harming young woman

The prisons and probation ombudsman Stephen Shaw will launch a public inquiry in September 2008 into the treatment of a teenage woman while in prison during 2003-5, it was announced yesterday.

The woman, known as SP, was remanded into custody when she was 16-years-old. When she turned 17, she was moved to an adult women’s prison from a local authority secure children’s home.

During 2003-5, SP self-harmed in prison to such an extent that she was admitted to hospital for blood transfusions. In response, the prison held SP in solitary confinement for several months, where she was often locked up in a cell for 22-hours a day, and placed her on suicide watch.

The Howard League for Penal Reform, which has represented SP for four years, succeeded in having her moved to a secure psychiatric environment in 2005 after a high court injunction. The league also campaigned  for the public inquiry, arguing that the woman’s human rights under article two of the European Convention on Human Rights were violated in prison.

Director of the Howard League for Penal Reform Frances Crook said: “This public inquiry to be conducted by the prisons and probation ombudsman will be the first ever truly independent investigation into the treatment of children in prison.”

She added that it was a unique opportunity for SP to give evidence as previous investigations had dealt with individuals who had died or been so damaged they had been unable to participate.

“At the very least, this inquiry will uncover a salutary tale of the crisis of mental health in our jails. SP’s story is a seminal story for our time because it exemplifies the failings of the state with regards to children and says a great deal about the genesis of criminal behaviour,” Crook said.

More information

The Howard League for Penal Reform

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