HMP Eastwood Park: Where almost half the women released are chucked out the prison gate homeless, like a discarded bin bag of rubbish

“While there is much in this report to be pleased about, Eastwood Park is a safe, respectful and purposeful prison – none of that means anything when so much of the accommodation is in a deplorable condition and nearly half of women, some who are at high risk of causing serious harm, are chucked out of the prison gate at the end of their sentence, like a discarded bin bag of rubbish, homeless, on the streets, and with  sleeping bag and shop doorway for shelter – would you want that for your daughter?”
Mark Leech, Editor: The Prisons Handbook

“Almost half of prisoners discharged in recent months had been released either homeless or to very temporary/emergency accommodation, including some high-risk prisoners. Too little support was given to prisoners to either sustain or obtain accommodation.”
Peter Clarke: HM Chief Inspector of Prisons

HMP Eastwood Park, a closed women’s prison near Bristol with a catchment area including Wales, was found to have remained a safe, respectful and purposeful prison over the last three years.

However, Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said the latest inspection in May 2019 raised concerns about “completely inappropriate” conditions in the prison’s three closed blocks – units 1, 2 and 3. Inspectors were also concerned about the number of women released homeless.

At the time of the inspection in May 2019, Eastwood Park held just under 400 women. It was last inspected in November 2016. In 2019, assessments of safety, respect and purposeful activity had remained at reasonably good, though resettlement work had slipped to not sufficiently good.

Mr Clarke said: “Eastwood Park has a huge catchment area, including much of Wales. Consequently, half the women were being held more than 50 miles from home, and over one-third never received any visits. As with all women’s prisons, the population included many with very complex needs, and many who had been victimised in a variety of ways before coming into custody.”

He added: “Overall, we found that Eastwood Park remained a safe, respectful and purposeful prison.” Most prisoners said staff treated them with respect, they were increasingly consulted about their experiences in the prison, and we saw many positive interactions with staff.”

However, the prison needed to “think very carefully” about whether it was necessary for some women to be segregated for extended periods. “The practice of segregating women on residential wings also had a detrimental knock-on effect on the regime of the rest of the prisoners who were not in segregation.”

Mr Clarke said that although, by and large, living conditions in the prison were good, “the accommodation provided on Units 1-3 were completely inappropriate for a women’s prison.”

Inspectors found that women in Units 1 -3 felt less respected. They were often unnecessarily locked up during the working day while segregated prisoners were allowed ‘domestic time’ and exercise.

The report noted: “In our survey, 47% of prisoners on residential units 1, 2 and 3 said that it was easy to get drugs at the prison, and one in five that they had developed a drug problem while at the establishment. There was also evidence of prisoners taking medication that had not been prescribed to them; in our survey, 32% of respondents on residential units 1, 2 and 3 said that they had developed a problem with taking medication which had not been prescribed to them since being at the prison.”

Mr Clarke said: “On entering these units, I was immediately struck by the sight of rows of women’s faces pressed against the open observation hatches of their locked doors, peering out into the narrow, dark, cell block corridor. It was as if they were waiting for something or indeed anything to happen, however mundane, to relieve the monotony of their existence.

“Unless something radical can be done to improve the conditions on these units, then serious consideration should be given to closing them. At present they are simply not fit for purpose.”

The assessment of resettlement had declined and the complexity of the population clearly had an impact on the provision of effective offender management and resettlement services: 73% of prisoners said they had mental health problems, and around half had problems with illicit drug use.

In the months leading up to the inspection, a “worryingly high” 42% women had been released homeless and were left either to live on the streets or to go to temporary emergency accommodation.

Mr Clarke said: “I spoke to several prisoners who had previously experienced this and had either re-offended or felt it was inevitable that they would do so if released again in similar circumstances. In many ways this is an issue that is beyond the control of the prison, but more support does need to be given before release.”

Mark Leech, Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales writes:

While there is much in this report to be pleased about, Eastwood Park is a safe, respectful and purposeful prison – none of that means anything when so much of the accommodation is in a deplorable condition and nearly half of women, some who are at high risk of causing serious harm, are chucked out of the prison gate at the end of their sentence, like a discarded bin bag of rubbish, homeless, on the streets, and left to fend for themselves.

The whole point of having a joined up prison and probation service, with end-to-end offender management, is that transition from prison to probation supervision needs to be seamless – the reality however is that vulnerable females, many a high propensity to reoffend and who are accepted to be at high risk of causing serious harm are discarded, dumped at the gate with nowhere to live, just a shop doorway and sleeping bag for shelter.

Would you wants that for your daughter?

Read the Report

HM Prison Eastwood Park – an impressive women’s prison

eastwoodpark

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