Monday, April 28, 2003

My Sarah was smart and talented - Why did she die in jail?

LONDON: Sarah Campbell was just 18 when she killed herself [? committed suicide,] one of seven women to die in jail this year. Our correspondent asks why so many women kill themselves in prison [? commit suicide in prison.]

[Firstly, what kind of a person would write that the woman killed herself? Then repeat it in the same paragraph? When the young woman committed suicide, no doubt, because of the prisons conditions and the treatment of prisoners. Shame on you, you're from the ruling class!]

SARAH CAMPBELL WAS ALWAYS a talented child. You get a general idea of her achievements if you browse for a while in her mother's sitting room. There is something of Sarah in every corner: the cluster of tennis trophies, the art works that were often displayed in local exhibitions, the purple belt in karate. The family photo album charting skiing trips, birthday parties and drama classes tells the story of a young girl shaping up for a promising future.

But the sympathy cards that litter the room tell a different story. On January 17 this year Sarah was sentenced to three years imprisonment. She was sent to Styal women's prison in Cheshire, and the next day she was dead. She had taken an overdose of what were believed to be prescription drugs. It was three days before her 19th birthday.

Somehow, despite so many advantages in life, [sent to prison] Sarah had ended up a heroin abuser [? user.] It is a miserable story [why make it more miserable?] One day, desperate for a fix, she and a friend were begging in Chester town centre. They hassled an elderly man for money and, petrified, he fell down and died.

[Did that kill him? or was he going to fall down and die anyway, obviously the manslaughter verdict tells a bit more of the tale?]

The victim, Amrit Bhandari, 72, had suffered a heart attack and the pair were found guilty of manslaughter. The case was unique because the manslaughter conviction was based on a harassment charge rather than something more serious, such as robbery.

[Exactly, he could have been harassed by a sales person, or even a storm. Because some people are old and frail and perhaps ready to die, that doesn't mean people are guilty because they were alleged to have harassed him and he died, just then. So this young woman with her whole young life ahead of her is now dead because she was sent to prison for harassing someone for money? I get harassed for money every day of the week but I don't die because I'm young and healthy.]

This article does not seek to excuse Sarah's behaviour. [Oh yes it does now I'm on the job.] It merely asks how an 18-year-old girl with a known history of depression came to injure herself fatally [? commit suicide in prison] within hours of being received into Her Majesty's care [? ruling class care.] [Because the ruling class don't care. And her alleged majesty is an arsehole with a big pay check.]

Sarah, you see, is only a small detail on a very depressing canvas. [Dead] The number of women 'taking their own lives in prison' [? Committing suicide in prison] is rising at a shocking rate. This week another casualty, Jolene Willis, 24, was found hanged in her cell at Styal. She was serving four months for theft. Between 1990 and 1995 seven women committed suicide in prisons in England and Wales, an average of 1.2 a year.

In the first four months of this year alone, seven have already taken their own lives [? committed suicide] Last year nine female prisoners committed suicide, the worst toll on record. At the current rate, 2003 will overtake it.

Women are not the only problem. Last year 85 men took their own lives [committed suicide] in overcrowded prisons, up from 66 in 2001. What is so disturbing about women is that their deaths are disproportionately high. They make up only six per cent of the prison population yet account for 11 per cent of the "SIDS" self-inflicted deaths [? "SUICIDE" Deaths in Custody.]

[Why is that so disturbing? Women have less emotional and physical strength? What disturbs me more is the writer of this article. Who can't address deaths in custody and suicide for what it is! What are you? A person who works for the ruling class? And who uses ruling class propaganda!]

Unlike males, most female prisoners have not committed violent crime; their offences are mostly linked to theft, drugs or unpaid bills and they are less equipped to deal with being separated from their children.

[Err..Rubbish lots of males have also not committed violent crime ; their offences are mostly linked to theft, drugs or unpaid bills and they are also less equipped to deal with being separated from their children. So it is equall some women have also committed violent crime, no doubt.]

Nearly all will try to harm themselves in some way [nope, some won't.] The methods they find are gruesome but ingenious. Scouring pads and hairgrips are used to maim. One young woman choked herself to death [? committed suicide, death in custody,] by swallowing toilet tissue. Yet the number of women being sent to jail has more than doubled to 4,200 in the past decade. The prison service is understaffed and undertrained.

Officers [guards] have less opportunity to get to know prisoners individually and thus spot the danger signs. Sarah had first been diagnosed with depression at 15. She had had no contact with her father since she was four, but her mother tried to give her a good education and a stable upbringing, both at their North Wales cottage and at their current home in Malpas, Cheshire. [But none of that had anything to do with prison conditions.]

She hoped that she wouldn't go to prison, [like everyone] but a secure psychiatric hospital instead. [? But drug rehab instead]. When she discovered that she was going to Styal she was distraught. At court a liaison probation officer and a duty psychiatric nurse warned that she may harm herself. [Bling, Bling, Bling, Bling.]

[Alllegedly] the last thing she said to her mother, Pauline, was: "Mum, why aren't they taking me to a hospital?" [Rehab?] Pauline Campbell doesn't really know what happened after that.

From the scant information she has been given, she understands that around teatime on January 18, Sarah asked to see a prison officer in her cell and said she had taken some tablets. It is unclear what happened next but an inquest, which will not be held for several months, will examine if there was a delay in getting Sarah to hospital. What is known is that at 7.56 that evening she was pronounced dead at Wythenshawe Hospital, Manchester.

Mrs Campbell, a former lecturer in NHS administration, had been out visiting friends that night. When she returned she discovered police had pushed a note through her door asking her to contact them. On her answering machine were three urgent messages from the prison. The next minutes were a blur as she dialled the numbers. No one was available and, nauseous with terror, she was forced to leave messages. At around midnight a police officer called back. Mrs Campbell remembers the words: "I'm sorry to tell you that your daughter has died." She says: "He didn't even ask me if I was on my own." The next thing she knew, she was screaming.

On the Monday, her own birthday, Mrs Campbell had to identify her daughter's body in a hospital mortuary. Sarah was her only child. A postmortem examination had already been conducted without her knowledge. As many people whose relatives have died in prison discover, normal courtesies don't always apply.

Helen Sacker knows this all too well. When her daughter Sheena Creamer, 22, hanged herself [committed suicide, death in custody] in her cell at New Hall prison, Wakefield, the first she knew of it was when it was announced on the local TV news. She collapsed.

Mrs Sacker was never satisfied with the way the prison handled her daughter's "cry for help". When an inquest returned a verdict of suicide, and the coroner refused her request that the jury should have the chance to add a rider that neglect was a contributing factor, she refused to let the matter drop. This month she was rewarded. The Appeal Court quashed the suicide verdict, paving the way for a new hearing.

Sheena, a heroin addict from Rotherham, south Yorkshire, and a mother of two, had been in prison before. But, her mother says, she was trying to kick the drugs and had bought paint to decorate her flat when a store detective caught her and her boyfriend allegedly stealing an item worth £9.99. When they appeared before magistrates the next day, Sheena's boyfriend was granted bail pending trial. She was not.

Sheena was hysterical at being locked up on remand. In the cells below court she was in a "terrible state". In prison she was in painful withdrawal from heroin as part of her drug detox course. She was taken to a hospital wing, vomiting. Such was her distress that a concerned prison warder opened an "at risk" form on her.

But when the doctor arrived to examine her, he recommended that she be returned to the cells. In his notes he wrote: "Not suicidal or thinking of self-harm compos mentis. I feel she is manipulative. Return to residential unit." At 11.30pm that night she was found dead in her cell. She had pulled down the privacy curtain that surrounded the toilet area in her cell, attached it to the bars on her window and hanged herself [committted suicide, death in custody.]

Mrs Sacker says she knew that her daughter wasn't an angel but she also knew that something was wrong. "I knew from day one that this was neglect," she says. "Sheena knew how to look after herself but the prison didn't look after her when she needed it." The only visit she received from the prison was from the chaplain, who returned a bundle of her clothes.

Mrs Sacker asked to see the cell. "I couldn't believe it when I saw how low the bars were," she says. "I was thinking Sheena was so tall. She couldn't have hanged herself from there. But somehow she did."

Prison reform campaigners have long argued that there is little sympathy for people who die in prison. [People who commit suicide in prison, death in custody.] Deborah Coles, co-director of Inquest, a campaign group that supports the families of those who die in jail, says: "Women in prison are an invisible issue. Many suffer terribly; the regimes are more restrictive than in men's prisons and staff are not trained to cope with such damaged people. Yet more and more women are being sent to prison when clearly they should be being treated for mental illness." [Or drug rehabilitation.]

Coles has been attending inquests into prison deaths since 1990. "The frustrating thing is to see the same patterns being repeated, the same mistakes being made but the lessons not being learnt," she says.

"Inquests seem to be preoccupied with focusing on the individual pathology of the person who has died, which neglects the wider issues. "With Sarah Campbell there is already a question about why she was sent to prison in the first place when she had a recognised mental health history." [?And a drug habit.]

The Home Office [? the Death Office] does recognise that there is a problem. [?] In September last year a consultation included a call from the Home Secretary to find alternatives to custodial sentences. A Home Office spokesman said of Sarah's case: "All deaths in custody are a tragedy, however we cannot comment on individual cases before any inquest has taken place. Tackling prisoner self-inflicted deaths [?] and self-harm, [suicide] is a key priority for the prison service and a huge amount of work has already been done under the safer custody strategy." [Ruling class death squad!]

Frances Crook, the director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, says that Britain locks up more women than any other EU country except Spain and Portugal. "The courts seem to be less tolerant of women displaying antisocial behaviour," she says. She adds that there are stricter regimes in women's jails and they are so understaffed that two wardens are often left to supervise up to 200 women on exercise. "The punishment levels are much higher. If a man says f off it is kind of expected, but it won't be tolerated in a women's prison. They aren't allowed to shout and scream and let out their frustrations."

Mrs Campbell doesn't believe that Sarah wanted to die. It was, she says, a blatant cry for help. "I think she felt rejected, abandoned," she says. "She was above-average intelligence and I don't think she could cope with what was happening to her." Mrs Campbell winces at the memory of her daughter being convicted of manslaughter. She stresses that a Home Office pathologist testified that Mr Bhandari suffered from hardened arteries, had probably suffered an earlier heart attack and could have died at any moment.

This doesn't change the ugly fact that while he was lying on the ground Woolley and Sarah stole his wallet. But it does show that the crime didn't involve actual physical violence.

Throughout her teens Sarah had suffered from low self-esteem. At 15 her doctor prescribed antidepressants. When she was 16 she started an art course at West Cheshire College, with a view to going to university to study fine art. At some point, however, she started to smoke cannabis and was later introduced to heroin.

[But she never drank alcohol because that is safe and effective? Also taxed? Because that is legal and leads people knowwhere? There is so much bullshit in this ruling class article isn't there? Did Mrs Campbell not use the word alcohol? I wonder?]

Mrs Campbell: "I noticed that she was becoming more moody and a bit more withdrawn than usual but I put it down to adolescence at first," her mother says. By the end of the first term she had dropped out of college and was becoming increasingly alienated from her non drug-taking friends.

Just before her 18th birthday she moved to London for a few weeks with "friends", though her mother begged her not to. Yet they always stayed in touch. "We never fell out or lost contact. I couldn't have coped with that.

I loved her and always will love her," Mrs Campbell says. It was around then that Sarah told her mother that she feared her addiction was "out of control". When Sarah returned she lived with friends in a Chester hostel. After the begging incident she was sent to prison on remand for six months, a period during which she was drug-free. She was delighted to be off the drugs and in one of many letters written from the jail she told her mother: "I don't know what I would have done without you these past few months." In the weeks before the trial she was let out on bail and lived with her mother under a 9pm curfew. "It was like getting the old Sarah back again," says Mrs Campbell.

"She was lovely and intelligent and full of awareness. She had matured a lot," says Mrs Campbell. "She was playing that piano over there a couple of days before she died."

Mrs Campbell knows that during her time on remand at Styal when Sarah's mental health had given staff cause for concern she was placed under 15-minute observation. It is not known at this stage whether Sarah was under special observation on the day she died. All her mother asks is that the events leading up to her death are laid out openly at the inquest. Because she owns her own home and has a small pension, however, she does not qualify for legal aid to fund her own barrister.

Meanwhile, she is left with lacerating pain and the job of continuing life without her only child. "Sarah had another worry about going to prison," her mother confides. "She was terrified that by the time she came out, her cat Franky wouldn't recognise her any more."

Sarah Campbell may have been jailed for an adult's crime, but in her mind she was still a little girl.

Within these walls: the 2003 death toll
Jolene Willis
Sue Stevens
Helena Price
Jennifer Clifford
Clare Parsons
Sarah Campbell
Leanne Gidney

Do women offenders need treatment rather than punishment?

By Carol Midley posted 28 April 03

Ed: All offenders need treatment and not punishment because the punishment is the crime. All offenders also need proper english and not ruling class bullshit. Anyone who dies in prison because of those conditions has died in custody. If they killed themselves it is because they committed suicide, same as if they did that outside of a prison. Don't let ruling class arsehols dictate the English Language so that it tries to sound better when it is totally gross, inhuman and degrading human rights abuse.

Related Updated 2009

Most women [people] 'should not be jailed'
The Howard League for Penal Reform said jail should be reserved for women who commit serious or violent offences and remain a danger to the public.

Children of Imprisoned Mothers
United Nations lobbying body reports on women in prison and their children. I thought that two recent publications from the Quaker group that lobbies the UN might be of interest to you.

Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO)
On-line Resources on Women in Prison

Prison System Fails Women, Study Says
State policies designed for violent men make female offenders' rehabilitation difficult, an oversight panel finds. "If we fail to intervene effectively in the lives of these women and their children now, California will pay the cost for generations to come," said Commissioner Teddie Ray, chairwoman of the subcommittee that produced the report.

Prison suicides soar as jails hire 'babysitters'
UK: Prison officers are being taken off suicide watch and replaced by unqualified 'babysitters' because the system is overwhelmed by an epidemic of self-harm.

Report slams 'unjust' jailing of women on remand
UK: Six out of 10 women sent to jail while they await trial are acquitted or given a non-custodial sentence, a report published today reveals. Introducing the report, Lady Kennedy QC calls for a complete review of the use of remand and bail for women saying it is "inhumane and unjust".

Concern as UK prison suicides hit record level
UK: More prisoners took their own lives in English jails in August than in any other month since records began, prison reformers said today.

End of years of despair as Holloway closes its doors
But now Holloway prison in north London - where Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be executed in Britain, was hanged in 1955 - has been earmarked for closure, along with several other women's prisons, which have been hit by a spate of suicides.

How detox and self-help brought suicide jail back from the brink
UK: Six suicides in 12 months made Styal jail notorious and the Prisons Ombudsman criticised the prison and its staff for serious failures. But things are changing.

Parents on the inside leave children on the edge
Life in jail is an ordeal but it's a much harsher sentence for the child of a prisoner, writes Paola Totaro. 30 July 03.

2nd Renaissance -36 Let The Girls Go! [263]
During 2003 an Australian woman, Kathleen Folbigg, was sentenced to 40 years in prison, with a non-parole period of 30 years. Her crime, which she continues to deny, was to consecutively smother her four children when they were aged between 8 and 19 months. She was largely convicted on the basis of entries in her private diary, although these did not specifically refer to her having killed her two sons and two daughters; only that she was her father's daughter. Her lawyers are appealing her conviction.