Women were making around 1,000 calls each month to the Samaritans from a prison in Derbyshire, according prison inspectors. A report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons has found instances of self-harm were the highest in the women’s prison estate at HMP Foston Hall and, for the first time, a women’s prison scored ‘poor’ in more than a decade ago with the inspectorate calling it ‘a rare and unexpected finding’.
The watchdog criticised the lack of any strategy to reduce self-harm in the prison which holds 272 women and serious attempts by women to take their own lives were not always investigated. Messages left on the prison’s crisis hotline had not been checked for six weeks on the day of the inspection. Inspectors reported that segregation and anti-ligature clothing to combat self-harm were over-used. One woman had been placed in anti-ligature clothing 87 times in the previous 12 months. Chief Inspector of Prisons Charlie Taylor said: ‘The response to women in crisis was too reactive, uncaring and often punitive… It was no surprise that in our survey nearly a third of women told us they felt unsafe.’
The report also found violence had increased dramatically within the prison, and the use of force by prison staff had doubled since the last inspection, to the highest rate in the women’s estate.
Deborah Coles, the director of Inquest, called Foston Hall ‘a dangerous and harmful place for women. ‘Horrendous rates of self-harm, exacerbated by the impact of Covid and restricted regimes, punitive treatment and segregation for women in crisis. This is inhumane and unjust.’
Emily Evison of the Prison Reform Trust criticised the government’s strategy towards women in prison, saying: ‘Women’s prisons are expected to solve problems which are made worse by women being in custody. Nearly three-quarters (72%) of women entering prison to serve a sentence have committed a non-violent offence. Many women who offend suffer from drug and alcohol addictions and mental ill health. A large number of women in prison are victims of far more serious crimes than those for which they have been convicted. The answers to women’s offending lie in proper treatment and support in the community and sustained investment in non-custodial alternatives. Building more women’s prison places, as the government has committed to doing, is an irrational response.’