Staff at HMP Bronzefield were working hard to care for their complex population, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons, publishing the report of an unannounced inspection. However, he added that some issues the prison faced could only be dealt with at a national level.
HMP Bronzefield, in Greater London, held women on remand and serving sentences that ranged from a few weeks to life. Prisoners ranged in age from 18 to 79. Almost 30% were foreign nationals. The women held presented a wide variety of complex needs: about half had children under 18, one in three told inspectors they felt depressed or suicidal when they first arrived at the prison, had a disability or had a problem with drugs and one in five had a problem with alcohol. Overall the prison’s response to this complex population had improved since its last inspection and some of the areas that remained of most concern were outside the prison’s direct control.
Inspectors were pleased to find that:
- reception, first night and induction arrangements were all good;
- there was very good support for women with substance misuse problems that continued throughout their time in the prison;
- support for the significant number of women with alcohol problems was particularly impressive and best practice;
- there had been no self-inflicted deaths since the prison opened and the number of self-harm incidents had reduced dramatically year on year;
- the support provided to the most vulnerable women was sensitive but effective;
- staff had a good knowledge of women in their care and most women felt there was a staff member they could turn to if they had a problem;
- health care was much improved and now reasonable overall; and
- time out of cell was reasonable for most women and there were enough activity places to meet the needs of the population.
However, inspectors were concerned to find that:
- arrangements for transporting women to and from the prison were unacceptable, as women were carried in vehicles containing men and spent very long periods in the van;
- offender management needed to be better coordinated with the generally very good practical resettlement services; and
- work to support women in maintaining positive relationships with their families was underdeveloped.
The prison held a small number of ‘restricted status’ women, some of whom had severe personality disorders. One woman was found, at the 2010 inspection, to have been held in the segregation unit for three years with very little human contact and little to occupy her. She was still there in 2013. Although more activities had been organised for her and better support was available, her prolonged location amounted to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. Much of this was outside the prison’s direct control and required a national strategy for meeting the needs of these very complex women, as exists in the male estate.
Nick Hardwick said:
“This inspection took place while the government was conducting a review of the women’s custodial estate. HMP Bronzefield illustrates some of the challenges that review should address. It is a credit to the managers and staff at Bronzefield that they meet these challenges as well as they do. There is more that can be done locally, but some of the issues identified in this report require a fundamentally different approach to the imprisonment of women at national level.”
Michael Spurr, Chief Executive Officer of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), said:
“This report shows the good work that the director and her staff are doing with the complex population at Bronzefield.
“I am pleased that the Chief Inspector recognises the very good support that is being offered to the women, which is helping to play a key role in their rehabilitation.
“I recognise the importance of looking at our national approach to women in prison and a review was commissioned earlier in the year into the women’s custodial estate, the outcome of which will be announced in due course.”
Mark Leech, editor of Converse the national newspaper for prisoners said the language of the report masked what were remarkable achievements.
“Women prisoners present some of the most difficult behavoural issues in our prisons – coming to jail often with decades of emotional, physical and sexual abuse behind them.
“Although women account for around 5% of the prison population they also account for over 50% of self harm incidents – for Bronzefield to have had no suicides and a self harm rate that is consistently dropping speaks volumes of the care Bronzefield inmates receive – and the delicate language of this Inspection report masks these remarkable achievements in what is a difficult and volatile part of the prison population.”