Personal therapist for violent prisoners

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The Independent Online
THIS 32-year-old former marketing executive has a demanding new job - being locked in jail with some of Britain's most dangerous criminals.

Sarah Selvey, a psychologist, will be treating inmates at a new high security unit in Buckinghamshire, that include the armed robber Charles Bronson and kidnapper and killer Michael Sams.

Mrs Selvey, who is married to the former Middlesex and England cricketer Mike Selvey, and has 13-month-old triplets, will be on her own with the prisoners in a consulting room during one-to-one therapy sessions. The only security she will have will be a prison officer monitoring the interview through a glass door.

Despite the prospect of dealing with a stream of highly violent and disruptive prisoners she is undaunted by her new task.

"We are aware of looking for early warning signs and agitation, signs of aggression. I don't feel any more at risk with them than with a normal prisoner or meeting a stranger in a pub," she said.

Among the inmates at Close Supervision Centre at Woodhill Prison near Milton Keynes, which has room for up to 48 prisoners and was unveiled yesterday, are:

t Charles Bronson, 45, considered Britain's most violent prisoner, with more than 20 assaults on prison governors and officers. Bronson, who renamed himself after the star of the Death Wish films, is regarded as so hard to handle that he has been moved more than 50 times in the past five years.

t Michael Sams, 55, is serving four life sentences after he was convicted in July 1993 of murdering Julie Dart and abducting estate agent Stephanie Slater. He is classified as a permanent risk to women prison staff and visitors after his attempt to throttle a female probation officer with her key chain.

t Anthony McCullagh, is serving life for a second time after being convicted in 1992 of murdering a fellow Wakefield jail prisoner with a knife.

t Fred Low, 41,who received his fourth life sentence in 12 years in November last year for murdering an inmate in a row over a piano lesson.

The inmates will be interviewed for about one hour per week by Mrs Selvey who will be conducting psychometric tests.Her assessment will be used to influence whether prisoners are placed in harsher or more lenient regimes.

The Woodhill centre forms part of the Prison Service's new regime for dealing with violent and disruptive inmates. Another unit at Durham Prison specialises in offering psychiatric support.

Woodhill specialises in assessment and can be used as a staging post for prisoners between Durham and Hull and the rest of the prison system.

The new regime of Close Supervision Centres replaces the old continuous assessment system - dubbed the "merry-go-round". Under that method, awkward and dangerous prisoners were simply shunted from one high-security institution to another and no work was done to tackle the causes of their psychopathic and anti-social behaviour.

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