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Self-harm and Bullying in Woman's Jail

Wednesday, 12th February 2003.

OVERCROWDING and staff shortages at Highpoint Prison mean women prisoners are kept in unsuitable and unsafe units and in danger of being assaulted or harming themselves, according to a new report.

Inspection reports have been published on both the men's training prison and the women's prison at Highpoint Prison, Stradishall, with one of the recommendations that they operate as two totally separate prisons.

While the 665-inmate male training prison is seen as an improving prison, the 215-inmate women's prison suffers from serious staff shortages and inadequate buildings.

Ann Owers, Her Majesty's Inspector of Prisons, said it was only the commitment of staff and the relative compliance of prisoners which masked serious underlying deficiencies at the prison.

Her report highlights unsuitable and unsafe units, with women locked together in spurs overnight and with night staff unable to gain access without summoning assistance.

This leads to clear dangers of self harm and bullying, with clear evidence of assaults by women prisoners at night.

"It needs to be properly resourced and supported to provide a safe and positive environment for the women held there," Ms Owers said.

Cliff I'Anson, Assistant Head of Residents at the women's prison, said old cell blocks, converted from former RAF buildings, could have up to 29 women sharing one bath, four showers and four toilets, which made bullying very difficult to control.

"Going to the bathroom becomes a trauma for people. The new units are about reducing bullying and self-harm and creating a safe environment. We are also experiencing great difficulty recruiting staff, particularly when a shelf stacker at Tesco's can earn more than a prison officer," Mr I'Anson said.

Niall Clifford, area manager for the Prison Service, said there was nothing in the report that they did not already know about and had not started to address.

Close to 5 million has been spent on new accommodation, with more to come.

Governor Sue Doolan said CCTV would be provided in the refurbished units to help combat bullying and self-harm.

Tom Haley, governor of the men's prison, said he was pleased that improvements had been recognised, but there was still work to do.

Drug testing six months ago had shown 28 per cent positive tests, compared to eight per cent or less in the last three out of four testings.

More work and training had been provided for inmates since the inspection

Haverhill Weekly News

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