Women’s prison mental health unit ‘shocking’

Women’s prison mental health unit ‘shocking’

By Liz Lockhart

A recent inspection of a special unit for women with mental health problems at a Cheshire prison has found it to be ‘wholly unsuitable’.

Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons, said that an unannounced inspection found that overall Styal prison had improved, however he added that the conditions of the women in the mental health unit was ‘more shocking and distressing than anything I have yet seen on an inspection.’

The staff at the Keller unit were found to be overstretched said the inspectors.  ‘Despite the best efforts of the staff at Styal, the Keller unit remains a wholly unsuitable place to safely hold and manage very seriously damaged and mentally ill women,’ Mr Hardwick said.

In a report by the BBC, Mr Hardwick is reported as saying ‘The staff I met on the Keller unit were deeply impressive.  Nevertheless, the circumstances of the women on the Keller unit were more shocking and distressing than anything I have yet seen on an inspection.  So long as these women remain in prison there is a need to ensure that they receive similar resources to those provided for the most disruptive men in close supervision.’

Mr. Hardwick also commented that a national review into vulnerable women in jail by Baroness Corston in 2007 had recommended a reduction of the number of women in jail.  This review was as a result of the deaths of six women in Styal between 2002 and 2003.

‘It was therefore disappointing to find too many cases of women, some of whom were clearly mentally ill, serving very short prison sentences which served little purpose except to further disrupt sometimes  already chaotic lives,’ added Mr Hardwick.

The Chief Executive Officer of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), Michael Spurr said ‘NOMS and its partners, including the National Health Service, are committed to enhance the provision of care for those women with mental health and behavioural issues.  The potential for provision of updated facilities to supplement or replace the Keller unit are being reviewed by NOMS.’ 

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