Britain should be 'ashamed and aghast' for the way it is treating female inmates at a Wilmslow prison, says the Chief Inspector of Prisons.
Nick Hardwick has blamed the government's failure to change a male-dominated system for incidents of self-mutilation and suicide at Styal women's prison.
Mr Hardwick said Britain should be 'ashamed and aghast' for the way it is treating female inmates after seeing shocking scenes of self-harm at the Cheshire jail. The prison has been under review after the deaths of six women in 2003.
During a lecture to mark the fifth anniversary of Baroness Corston's report into the state of women in prisons last night, Mr Hardwick said: “I think the treatment and conditions in which small minorities of the most disturbed women are held is simply unacceptable. I think, I hope, we will look back in how we treated these women in years to come, aghast and ashamed.”
Styal women's prison first came into the spotlight ten years ago when in 2002 an inquiry was called into the death of six women at the prison. Mr Hardwick said that little has been done since then.
In a letter to Justice Secretary Ken Clarke, Clive Chatterton, governor of the prison, who retired last year said: “I have never come across such a concentration of damaged, fragile and complex-needs individuals.”
Mr Chatterton said that half of the women in his former prison should never have been sent there.
“Prisons are simply the wrong place for so many of the distressed and disturbed women they hold,” Mr Hardwick said.
His lecture reflected on developments in the UK since the 2007 Corston Report that outlined ‘the need for a distinct radically different, visibly-led, strategic, proportionate, holistic, woman-centred, integrated approach’.
According to Mr Hardwick, at the core of the problem is a system 'overwhelmingly geared to a male population' and blamed successive governments' failure to tackle the issue.
A report by Styal prison's inspectorate last month found that the prison’s Keller unit – special unit for women with mental health problems – is a ‘wholly unsuitable place to safely hold and manage very seriously damaged and mentally ill women’.
During the review of the prison Mr Hardwick said: “It was therefore disappointing to find too many cases of women, some of whom were clearly mentally ill, serving very short prison sentences which served little purpose except to further disrupt sometimes already chaotic lives.”
In the 2007 Corston report that was prompted by the six deaths at the prison, Baroness Corston said: “The levels of self-harming are utterly horrifying. It’s the one thing where these women feel they have some form of control. Everything else is beyond their control or impossible to deal with.”