State of women's jails shames Britain, says prisons inspector

Britain should be "aghast and ashamed" at the way it is treating some of the most disturbed women in its jails where levels of self-mutilation remain shockingly high, the chief inspector of prisons said last night.

Nick Hardwick said he had been kept awake at night by scenes he had seen at Styal women's prison and said too little had done since a groundbreaking report sparked by the deaths of six women at the jail between 2002 and 2003. He cited the example of one private prison near London which recorded more than seven cases of self-harm a day, and the case of one woman who had harmed herself 93 times in one month.

In a hard-hitting lecture to mark the fifth anniversary of the report by Baroness Corston into the state of women in prisons, he blamed the situation squarely on successive governments for failing to change a system "overwhelmingly geared to a male population". He said the decision-making hierarchy for a woman at Styal could be entirely male from wing officer to Prime Minister.

"Prisons, particularly as they are currently run, are simply the wrong place for so many of the distressed, damaged or disturbed women they hold," said Mr Hardwick. "I think the treatment and conditions in which a small minority of the most disturbed women are held is... simply unacceptable. I think, I hope, we will look back on how we treated these women in years to come, aghast and ashamed."

Although women make up only five percent of the 87,583 prison population in England and Wales, they account for nearly half of all self-harm incidents in prison. One former inmate who was jailed for six years after being caught bringing drugs into Britain told The Independent how, on her second night at Styal, a woman in a room opposite her own attempted to hang herself. The woman, who declined to be named, said that self-harming was rife while she was serving her sentence in the early 2000s. "I was on the upper landing, while others downstairs were doing cold turkey. They were banging on walls and the doors to get out to obtain drugs. They couldn't so they self-harmed," she said.

Baroness Corston, a Labour peer, called in 2007 for existing women's prisons to be replaced by smaller dedicated units around the country, which has not happened. She welcomed some changes – including the end of strip searching of women who had often been victims of sexual abuse – but said that women were still given longer sentences than men for the same crimes.

"The courts are still sending too many women to prison," she said. "The levels of self-harming are utterly horrifying. It's the one thing where these women feel they have some form of control. Everything else is beyond their control or impossible to deal with."

The problems at the Keller Unit, where ten of the most seriously damaged women were kept at Cheshire's Styal prison, were highlighted in a report by the prisons' inspectorate last month.

The former governor of Styal, Clive Chatterton, who retired last year, said that he had never come across such a "concentration of damaged, fragile and complex-needs individuals" during his 37-year career at mainly men's prisons.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson, said: "We are determined to tackle offending by women.

"Our aim is to tackle the underlying reasons for many women's offending, such as drug and alcohol addiction, as well as mental health issues and often long histories of abuse."

Suggested Topics
News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn