LETTER : Prison regime for women

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The Independent Online
From Mr Stephen Shaw

Sir: You are right to place responsibility for the horrors of Holloway at the door of the Home Secretary ("Howard must act on prison misery", 20 December). The excessive use of imprisonment, the overemphasis on security, the budgetary restrictions, and the failure over many years to find alternative accommodation for mentally ill prisoners, are all politically driven.

However, we need to look beyond the immediate situation at Holloway - appalling though it is - to see if there are better ways of running the women's prison system as a whole. A fundamental problem is that the security crackdown which followed the escapes from Whitemoor and Parkhurst applies just as much to female prisoners as to males. Similarly, home leave and temporary release opportunities have been decimated for women, although all the serious home leave "failures" (an unfortunate euphemism, since they included several murders and armed robberies) involved male prisoners.

Given the distinct needs and characteristics of women prisoners, the running of women's prisons should be regarded as a specialism, and the women's prison system managed separately from that of the males. This would enable rules and regulations in women's prisons more effectively to reflect women's needs. And it would ensure that those needs receive the priority - and the resources - which they deserve.

To most people, the chaining of women prisoners up to the point of giving birth will seem a monstrosity. It has occurred because the interests of women have been ignored in an orgy of security resulting from the misdeeds of men.

Yours faithfully,

Stephen Shaw

Director, Prison Reform Trust

London, EC1