'Overcrowding created stress and tension'

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The Independent Online

The author was freed on parole last year from Send women's prison in Surrey after serving three and a half years of a seven-year term for a drug offence. She served parts of her sentence in Holloway prison in north London and at Highpoint in Suffolk.

The author was freed on parole last year from Send women's prison in Surrey after serving three and a half years of a seven-year term for a drug offence. She served parts of her sentence in Holloway prison in north London and at Highpoint in Suffolk.

The time you really noticed the overcrowding was when you wanted to go to the toilet. There were supposed to be four of us women prisoners in one dormitory but they made us push the beds together and squeeze in five. There was no privacy at all. The toilet was in the corner and there was no door. We put a sheet across for the sake of decency but even then the prison officers could see you on the toilet if they looked in.

"Because of the overcrowding there was no stability in our lives. New cell-mates would arrive on a weekly basis and you never felt that your few possessions would be safe when you were not in your cell.

"During my three and a half years inside I really noticed the increase in the number of women being jailed. It affected all areas of prison life. You would have to queue for up to 45 minutes to get your meal and if you were on the last wing that was unlocked then there might not even be any food left at all.

"At weekends you were often locked in your cell all day, only coming out for meals. It created a lot of tension and stress among the women and made life harder for the officers. Lots of staff left, which made the overcrowding problems worse. If people wanted to see you on a visit they had to book a long time in advance because the places in the visiting centre were in such demand.

"I wanted to use my time constructively but it was difficult to get any education. There were so many women with their names down for the computer courses or even those for basic English and maths that it was very hard to get a place.

"If you don't do many courses during a long sentence it is not going to sound impressive to an employer. But the prisons were so overcrowded with women that most prisoners found that you just couldn't do it.