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

Number of female prisoners released into homelessness soars

homeless_womanThe number of women released from prison into homelessness has more than doubled over the past year, new figures have revealed.

Information obtained by Labour showed that 227 female offenders were recorded as being homeless by the Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) in the second quarter of 2017, compared with 103 a year earlier.

In total, almost a third of offenders released under CRC supervision had “unknown or unsettled accommodation outcomes”, according to written parliamentary answers to Labour.

The proportion of offenders released into homelessness is up by 12% over the past year, Labour said.

Shadow justice minister Imran Hussain said: “The Tories are presiding over a failing justice system that is putting public safety and confidence at risk.

“It is shocking that so many ex-offenders are being released without a roof over their head, despite homelessness being a major factor in reoffending. How can these people hope to turn their lives around when they don’t even have anywhere to live?

“This is yet another damning indictment of the failure of the Community Rehabilitation Companies to meet even the most basic of needs of offenders. The Tories need to take urgent action to ensure that these probation companies that they privatised are fit for purpose.”

 

A Ministry of Justice spokesman: “The Justice Secretary has been clear that we are committed to improving work across government to help prisoners and ex-offenders find a home, as well as a job, help with debt, or treatment for a drug addiction.

“As part of this, we are working with the Department for Communities and Local Government to develop a pilot project enabling offenders to find – and stay in – private rented accommodation following release from prison, building on existing government support for those at risk of homelessness.

“We will also shortly be bringing forward a strategy for female offenders aimed at improving outcomes for women in the community and custody, to add to the support already in place.”