Thursday, April 29, 2004

UK: The injustice of jail

The genuine improvements to Holloway cannot disguise the iniquity of imprisoning too many women

UK: Give or take Alcatraz, few prisons have a grimmer reputation than Holloway. The former chief inspector, David Ramsbotham, once declared it too disgusting to assess. Others have called the jail's cockroach-infested blocks the worst in the country. Holloway, its image pitched somewhere between Dante's Inferno and the penitentiary wing of Fawlty Towers, has never seemed a candidate for a good slammer award.

So how curious to get an invitation from the Home Secretary to join him on the first visit he has ever made to a women's prison. Clearly David Blunkett thinks things are looking up, otherwise he wouldn't want me along. Even so, the omens are not good. Shortly after 9am on the previous Thursday, Julie Angela Hope, aged 35 and on remand awaiting sentence, was found hanging from a bedsheet in her cell. Ms Hope died three days later in hospital, with her mother and her sister at her side.

She had stolen a handbag, which seems a meagre reason to end a life. But obviously it wasn't all about the bag. [? rubbish.] Ms Hope had one of those chaotic existences that channel the least fortunate from court to prison to morgue. [Rubbish, she stole a bag. Then she was shoved in a hell-hole by the ruling class.]

On the weekend of her death, three women killed themselves in other jails. As Edd Willetts, Holloway's new, impressive governor, told me, it is a 'miracle' that more do not perish. His staff cut down three or four women from makeshift nooses every day.

Anyway, here we are inside a functional, [?] north London building which looks hardly more of a mausoleum than the Home Secretary's everyday habitat of Queen Anne's Gate. The number of women prisoners has risen by 194 per cent over the last decade, and these ones could be hostile to their visitor. Instead, they are kind, mostly articulate and courteous. Only one woman initially refuses to speak to Blunkett, and she recants, saying: 'Oh, you're that famous geezer.' Most people make a big fuss of his dog, while the Home Secretary assures those awaiting trial that he is keen to speed the process up. He also tries some amiable hectoring.

'I've been in here for four years, on and off,' a young woman in the block for vulnerable prisoners tells him. 'Well, could you make it "off"?' he says. As Blunkett cannot see, her forearms are latticed with the slashes of self-harm. [?] Out of 470 prisoners here, 55 will try to injure themselves today.

Still, some things are changing. The health centre looks like the set for a general practice sitcom. Women can have a shower every day, which everyone seems to think amazing. An art class is in progress. The Job Centre Plus office is open. Officers sound, in a way that is not contrived for a Minister's visit, as if they care. 'Decency' is a favoured buzzword. In an induction group learning about rules for visits, most women wear grey tracksuits and smart trainers on loan from the prison. Many will have swayed in on the previous day, bone weary in high heels. Seven out of 10 will need a detox. Many will be mentally ill and require urgent medical assessment after the vans pull up just before midnight. The drivers, knowing that Holloway won't refuse late arrivals, always deliver male prisoners first.

If these women are typical, more than a third will have attempted suicide at some point in their lives and half will be on medication for depression. Each will, on average, have 2.1 children. The floating population of the biggest women's jail in western Europe never stays long. Newcomers, flotsam from 200 courts, are mostly remand prisoners. On national statistics, eight out of 10 will be charged with non-violent offences, and 60 per cent will be acquitted or get non-custodial sentences. The cost of keeping each woman here is more than £40,000 a year.

But Blunkett has come to reveal good news: £16 million of new money will be spent on building specialist units for girls under 18. Within 12 months, the children housed at Holloway will be moving on. Today, there are 11 of them on remand, all aged 17. Some are aghast to find a Minister in their midst. 'My hair,' one cries. 'It looks a mess.'

The Home Secretary and I stand in a cell with face cream, tomato ketchup and plastic cutlery on a shelf, next to a cushion embroidered with a heart and a boyfriend's name. The occupant, like many others, has kept a palm cross left over from Holy Week. 'We give the girls special bedding,' the deputy governor says, twitching a valance. 'Lemon yellow. With frills.'

But these girls should not be in prison at all, say reformers. Not here, and not in the new child jails swallowing up money needed elsewhere. Blunkett disagrees. Still, he has learned a lot, he tells me before he leaves. There must be better detox programmes outside prison. Mental health must be a priority. [Death from stealing a bag must stop?] I carry on to the refurbished mother and baby unit with its terrace planted with polyanthus, its cr?che full of toys, 'chill-out room' and unlocked cells. This relative idyll ends when the babies reach nine months, the age at which they are farmed out to relatives or local authority care. Many will never be reunited with their mothers.

Rachel has one month left before her daughter is taken away. Rachel is 20, a bright, compliant, hard-working and popular girl, but her crime was serious. [?] She is serving 10 years for importing a Class A drug, an offence she is too upset to talk about. [Serious? Rubbish, prohibition was planned and orchestrated by the ruling class. To be sepparated from your children and visa versa for the ruling class?] Her son, now aged two, and her daughter - two of the 17,000 children separated from their mothers by jail each year - will be looked after by her partner and his cousin. 'I know my baby will be cared for well,' Rachel says, but she seems close to tears.

In Germany, the state provides special units for non-dangerous women prisoners and their young children, an idea that the Prison Reform Trust will explore next month in a conference on young mothers. Here, we build child jails and imprison a record 4,671 women, even though crime has not got worse. Many of Holloway's inhabitants are suspected shoplifters.

I imagine the governor told Blunkett in private what he told me in public. 'A lot of women are remanded because they need psychiatric assessment. Why does that have to take place in prison? If we had better provision for the drug-addicted and mentally ill, we could significantly reduce the numbers of women in custody.'

Governor Willetts also says the lack of community support means that prison detoxes are doomed to fail. 'There is a better than even chance that when we discharge someone, their first port of call will be King's Cross and another supply of illegal drugs. [Then legalise drugs like big pharma.] 'Blunkett wanted to show that Holloway is very much improved. He's right. [Rubbish love! Just plain propaganda and rubbish]. But the real message was the failure of a justice system, [more rubbish, try the 'Law System' because what you have described above is certainly not justice, love.] that jails women who should never be in prison, a system that makes sad lives tragic.

The Home Secretary has witnessed what people have been telling him for years. I hope he was appalled.

[Wishful thinking but just like most of the ruling class he probably doesn't see himself as equal.]

By Mary Riddell posted April 29, 2004

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.]


Belmarsh prisoners consider suicide, says freed man
UK: The first of the Muslim prisoners released from Belmarsh high security prison after being held on suspicion of terrorism, [scapegoats for the Coalition of the Killing's resource war's in the Middle East], has [said], his fellow prisoners are suffering such 'severe mental problems' that they constantly consider suicide.

Revolving door: Criminal Law System
UK: They are just the opposite of master criminals. Indeed, in the words of Nick Davies in his latest three-part Guardian series on the criminal justice system, [? criminal law system], their criminal careers reflect "the same muddled inadequacy as they handle the rest of their lives". They were nearly all born and raised in chaos.

How the Prison Service Works
1.Abuse and torture inmates at HMP Wormwood Scrubs
2.Take years to admit a regime of violence and torture.
3.Settle 46 claims, paying 1.7 million to prisoners.
5.Carry on as before.
4.Keep 11 of the 14 prison officers responsible in their jobs.

Prisoners must get right to vote, says court
UK: The government will be forced to lift a ban on prisoners voting dating back to 1870 after the European court of human rights ruled yesterday it breached a lifer's human rights.

Cherie calls for women to be kept out of jail
UK: Cherie Booth today launches an impassioned attack on the jailing of women, warning of a 'cycle of poverty and crime' spiralling down the generations unless more female criminals are spared prison.

Blunkett charges miscarriage of justice victims 'food and lodgings'
UK: WHAT do you give someone who's been proved innocent after spending the best part of their life behind bars, wrongfully convicted of a crime they didn't commit? An apology, maybe? Counselling? Champagne?Compensation?

Prison needle cleansing programme
The Department of Health and the Prison Service appeared to be at odds last night over a needle cleansing programme designed to protect prisoners from blood-borne infections such as HIV and hepatitis.

England tops the EU in imprisonment
England and Wales jail more offenders per capita than any other European, Union country, according to new figures. The imprisonment rate of 141 per 100,000 makes the countries the prison capital of Europe for the second year running.

Don't put mothers behind bars
If we are to arrest the soaring prison suicide rate among women, we need to look at alternative punishment.

UK Prison Abuse: Guards Holding Nooses
'We will kill you. We will get away with it... we've done it before' Prisoners tell of hanging threats by officers holding nooses.

K K K in the UK
In the documentary it is alleged an officer dressed in a Ku Klux Klan mask at a training centre in north-west England. An undercover reporter from the BBC also claimed to have taped racist comments by some officers.

Suicides and unrest have soared, admits Home Office
UK:The already overcrowded prison population is set to go on rising and will top 80,000 within the next three years, a senior Home Office civil servant warned yesterday.

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.]