Thursday, March 31, 2005

Decade after inspector left in disgust, report tells of filth

UK: Dirty, mice-infested cells, high levels of self-harm, and widespread bullying over drugs and medications were just some of the damning findings of a report into conditions at Holloway, Britain's largest women's prison.

Nearly a decade after her predecessor, Sir David Ramsbotham, walked out of the jail in disgust over conditions, the chief inspector of prisons, Anne Owers, found that many of the north London jail's "fundamental problems" remained.

In particular, Ms Owers said that four out of seven key recommendations made by an inspection team nearly three years ago had still not been met. She also criticised the jail for failing to meet a principal recommendation from 2002 that girls should no longer be kept at Holloway.

However, she praised the prison's management team for making significant improvements since her last inspection, to Holloway's healthcare system and the amount of time inmates were spending out of their cells.

Designed in the 19th century as a mixed prison, Holloway has been plagued with problems ever since the 1970s when it began admitting increasing numbers of women.

In 1995 Sir David called for "immediate improvements" when he pulled out of an inspection after seeing rats, ants and cockroaches, and finding heavy-handed security, bullying, inadequate education facilities,low staff morale and poor healthcare.

In recent years, prison reformers have expressed concerns about levels of drug abuse, self-harm and suicide. And last year, Inquest, an organisation that works with families of those who have died in custody, reported that Holloway officers were cutting down as many as five women a day from nooses.

In her 2002 report, Ms Owers said it was "inexcusable and depressing" that young girls were being held on wings alongside older women inmates.

In her new report Ms Owers found the practice continued.

She also found "unacceptable" standards of cleanliness and parts of the jail with serious infestations of mice, pigeons and insects.

Inmates were forced to use sanitary towels as improvised seats on filthy toilets and to plug gaps under doors in an attempt to keep out rodents.

"Holloway has undoubtedly progressed since the last inspection but not to the extent that managers had hoped and we had expected," said Ms Owers.

"The previous management team have tackled some of the acute problems with enthusiasm but aspects of the underlying culture remained unaddressed."

The chief inspector also revealed that none of the staff working with children and young adults had received enhanced checks from the Criminal Records Bureau and highlighted the "extremely unsafe practice" of locking young women in bathrooms while showering.

"While the intention was clearly to keep others out, the reality was that juveniles and young adults were locked in showers in groups of three without prior risk assessments and without constant staff supervision," said the report.

Yesterday Tony Hassall, the governor of Holloway, said this practice had now been discontinued. He also said he planned to transfer the last juvenile to more suitable accommodation this week.

According to the chief inspector's report, half the inmates of Holloway felt "noticeably less safe" than in other women's prisons and staff are having to manage a "very high level of distress".

Minority ethnic and foreign national prisoners were particularly vulnerable, said Ms Owers.

Although Ms Owers recognised that pressures on staff and management should ease following the opening last year of HMP Bronzefield, a new women's prison in Ashford, Middlesex, she recommended that Holloway should rework its anti-bullying strategy, comprehensively review its procedures for managing women at risk of self-harm and suicide and ensure that under-18s were no longer held.

Welcoming the chief inspector's findings, Phil Wheatley, the director of prisons, pointed out that Holloway had just opened a new mother and baby unit and a refurbished healthcare centre was due to be completed in April.

"The governor and senior management team are determined to maintain the impetus for change," he said.

However, Mark Leech, editor of the Prisons Handbook, said it was high time that Holloway was demolished.

"This prison has had more than enough 'final chances' and if nobody can improve it, I believe it is time to make a radical decision about its future."

By Mark Honigsbaum posted 31 March 05

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.


Most women 'should not be jailed'
Women make up 6% of the prison population in England and Wales. Imprisonment of women should be "virtually abolished", a prison reform group has said. 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.

Youth 'murdered for officers' pleasure'
UK: An Asian teenager was murdered by a white racist after they were placed in the same cell as part of a game to fulfil the "perverted pleasure" of prison officers, a public inquiry heard on Friday.

Inquest blames jail for overdose death
UK: An inquest jury returned a verdict itemising a catalogue of faults at Styal prison in Cheshire, concluding that the prison's "failure of duty of care" contributed to the death of Sarah Campbell, 18, who took an overdose of tablets on the first day of her three-year sentence.

Put in the way of self-harm in a place intended to protect others
UK: Sarah Campbell, 18, spent the last hours of her life in the segregation unit of Styal prison, Cheshire. "The seg", as those places are referred to, used to be known as "the block", short for punishment block. [ Seg is a bullshit word for Punishment, Solitary Confinement, Torture, Mental Illness, Self-Harm, Human Rights Abuse and that is State Terror.]

Britain 'sliding into police state'
The home secretary, Charles Clarke, is transforming Britain into a police state, one of the country's former leading anti-terrorist police chiefs [false flag police chiefs] said yesterday.

UK solitary confinement
UK: Segregation units are prisons within prisons - the places where the most unchecked brutality is meted out to prisoners. In recent years conditions in high security segregation units have deteriorated, and the use of long-term segregation as a control mechanism has increased.

Inquiry must root out prison racists
UK: It is difficult to imagine a more brutal murder than that of Zahid Mubarek. The 19-year-old was clubbed to death by his cellmate at Feltham Young Offender Institution in the early hours of 21 March 2000. He was due to be released just a few hours later.

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.

Plan to sell off juvenile jails as job lot
UK: The government is to put out to tender all its dedicated juvenile jails that hold children under 18 in a departure in Whitehall's privatisation programme.

Failure to sack 'racist' prison staff condemned
UK: Two prison officers suspended for racism are still on full pay three years after a stash of Nazi memorabilia, neo-fascist literature and Ku Klux Klan-inspired 'nigger-hunting licences' was found in a police raid on their home.

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.

Belmarsh detainees consider suicide, says freed man
UK: The first of the Muslim detainees released from Belmarsh high security prison after being held on suspicion of terrorism has told the Guardian his fellow prisoners are suffering such severe mental problems that they constantly consider suicide.

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.

England tops the EU in imprisonment
England and Wales jail more offenders per capita than any other European, Union country, according to new figures.