System that offers life of isolation: Heather Mills reports on a special hospital inmate who suffered abuse and harassment

'JANE' has spent most of the past 20 years in Ashworth, Broadmoor, and Rampton secure special hospitals - locked away with some of the country's most seriously disturbed killers like Ian Brady and Peter Sutcliffe.

Her crimes were all trivial, shoplifting, possessing cannabis and causing a minor fire at her home, but freedom has so far proved elusive. Only now as a resident in a regional secure unit, is the prospect of release a possibility. After so many years in institutions, Jane says it is also a daunting one. Aged 43, she feels she has been caught in a system which sent her spiralling downwards - one which she admits she abused, but one in which she was also abused.

She recently wrote, in Nursing Times, her own graphic account of being stripped and thrown into an isolation unit at Ashworth, where she was held for 14 days without exercise or natural daylight. 'I felt completely alone. After a while I felt a need to urinate, so I got up from the mattress and tried to find the paper pot. It was so dark I could not find it anywhere and I had to urinate on the floor.

'After what seemed like an eternity, the door opened and the light was switched on. Because the light was so intense after being kept in the darkness I could not see who the nurses were, but I heard one of them say, 'Which is the dirtiest part of the room?' The other responded, 'Over there'. I could see she was pointing to where I had urinated on the floor. She put a sandwich in the puddle, turned the lights off and locked the door.' Speaking yesterday from the Carswell clinic, in Bridgend, South Wales, where she is in the rehabilitation unit preparing for release, Jane said: 'I can't begin to tell you how many hours I spent locked away in seclusion. Each time they locked me away I just felt more bitterness and resentment.'

Her accounts of harassment, demeaning and inhumane treatment are echoed in studies of special hospitals and prisons which are being used in a report today to highlight human rights abuses. It says the criminal justice system discriminates against women. A disproportionate number are held in the special hospitals because there is a tendency to interpret women's behaviour differently to men's.

One of the biggest reviews of services for mentally disordered offenders, the Reed report, concluded: 'Research tends to support the claim that women are more likely to be perceived 'mad' rather than 'bad'.'

Jane, who prefers not to use her real name, says there are many women like her trapped in the system who have suffered similar experiences but who feel too intimidated to speak up. She is left with no doubt that if, when she was sentenced in 1973 for shoplifting and possession of pounds 5 worth of cannabis, she had been kept out of the prison and special hospital system, she would certainly not be there today.

'Now I am being treated as a human being, but I still find it difficult to trust people. I used to think I was just plain bad. And they locked up and punished bad people. Only now that I am away from the special hospitals am I beginning to see I have capabilities,' she said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy