`Jailbirds' prison attacked in report

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THE WOMEN'S prison featured in the television series "Jailbirds" has been attacked by the Chief Inspector of Prisons for being under-resourced and for treating its pregnant inmates poorly. In a report published today on New Hall prison in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, Sir David Ramsbotham says the jail has failed to cope with a doubling of the inmate population in the last four years and suffers from a "lack of direction".

The BBC 1 documentary made cult figures out of several of the New Hall inmates, including Ivy Miller, a 71-year-old grandmother serving time for credit card offences.

In his report, the Chief Inspector sympathises with the two-thirds of patients in the prison health care unit who describe their medical treatment as "bad" or "very bad". Sir David says pregnant women prisoners were being denied written information on health promotion, and the opportunity to prepare physically for childbirth. He criticises the fact that both the prison's doctors are male - as are 30 per cent of the prison officers, a figure which he says must be reduced.

The prison, which has seen its population rise from 180 to 350 without a similar increase in funding, contains one of only two juvenile women's units in the country as well as a mother and baby unit.

Sir David says he found it "infinitely depressing" that nearly 80 per cent of the juveniles in New Hall had been in care before being imprisoned. He demands action from senior managers at Prison Service headquarters in London to ensure that the prison is properly resourced.

But in a second report published today, Sir David lavishes praise on a pioneering young offenders' institution which he says must become a model for the rest of the Prison Service. The Chief Inspector says that Huntercombe YOI, in Oxfordshire, is run by an "admirable governor, supported by an enthusiastic staff, who have succeeded in delivering a quality regime". He calls on Prison Service chiefs not to transfer the governor, Paul Manwaring, to another jail until he has "had long enough in post to bring his ideas and innovation to fruition".

Among the schemes developed by Huntercombe are a project with the Japanese motor giant, Nissan, which donates vehicles and parts to the jail for a scheme aimed at reducing car crime.

Offenders are taught to channel their interest in driving into a car maintenance course, which carries recognised qualifications, and are given lessons in the consequences to victims of vehicle crime. The Chief Inspector was also impressed with the setting up of a "Casework Team", made up mainly of experienced prison officers who work individually with offenders under the age of 18.

"The sense of excitement, enthusiasm and commitment of those working in the team was striking," said Sir David. "The contribution of these mature men, and a few - but not enough - women, as role models of calm and stable adults was inestimable."