The way HMP Eastwood Park responded to the challenges of its population was impressive, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons, publishing the report of an unannounced inspection of the Gloucestershire women’s prison.
HMP Eastwood Park holds a needy and transient population from a wide geographical area, taking women from Cornwall in the South West to Wolverhampton in the West Midlands, across Wales and along the south coast. Many women were a long way from home, a particular problem for the large number who also had dependent children. A significant number of women had disabilities, half the population were in touch with mental health services at the prison, almost three-quarters were having treatment for drug and alcohol misuse and there were about 10 self-harm incidents every week. Many of the women had histories of abuse, rape, domestic violence and involvement in prostitution. Few women stayed at the prison for longer than a few weeks with most staying less than three months.
Inspectors were pleased to find that:
- first night and early days support was now very good and much improved from a previous inspection in 2012;
- support for women who were vulnerable to self-harm was good and incidence of self-harm had greatly reduced, although it was still high;
- significant progress had been made in treating and supporting the high number of women with substance misuse problems;
- the environment was generally decent and staff-prisoner relationships were particularly strong;
- the very high numbers of women with disabilities had their needs met in a planned and sensitive way;
- time out of cell was good for all, there were sufficient activity places for the population and a good work ethic was encouraged; and
- a good range of partner agencies were engaged in resettlement work.
However, inspectors were concerned to find that:
- around 10% of the population were young adult women aged 18 to 21 and there had been little thought about their specific needs;
- young adult women were more likely to be involved in self-harm and assaults and less likely to make progress in education;
- the mother and baby unit was a good resource but was underused;
- women needed to be allocated to activities more quickly, as many of them stayed in the prison for such a short time; and
- custody planning for short-sentenced women was underdeveloped.
Nick Hardwick said:
“Staff, managers and partner agencies at Eastwood Park, from top to bottom, should be proud of what they have achieved and the impressive mixture of compassion and professionalism we found on this inspection. The problems and needs they deal with go far beyond issues of crime and punishment. A large, closed institution, far from home, cannot be the best place to meet the needs we found among the women at Eastwood Park – and it is in view of those challenges that the outcomes achieved are all the more impressive. There are still areas where improvements is required but they should be seen in the context of these very positive findings overall.”
“The prison is now due to expand and take on a new role as a resettlement prison. We are not yet assured that the rehabilitation model adopted, primarily designed for the male estate, is right for a women’s prison such as Eastwood Park. It will be important that as the new model is developed, full use if made of the experience and expertise available at Eastwood Park and other women’s prisons to ensure it is fit for purpose.”
Michael Spurr, Chief Executive Officer of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), said:
“This is an extremely positive report highlighting the excellent work done at Eastwood Park in managing a vulnerable group of women. As the Chief Inspector rightly highlights, the Governor and his staff should be proud of the significant improvements made in providing support especially during the early days in custody and for those with substance misuse issues or those vulnerable to self-harm.
“The prison will continue to build on the progress made as it changes into a resettlement prison, focused on ensuring that all prisoners can maintain crucial family relationships and have access to through-the-gate rehabilitative services.”
A copy of the report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website from 3 April 2014 at: http://www.justice.gov.uk/publications/inspectorate-reports/hmi-prisons/prison-and-yoi/eastwoodpark