Women inmates are having to endure "unacceptable" conditions at least a third of the country's female jails, with widescale abuse and overcrowding, the chief inspector of prisons revealed yesterday.
Prison officials admitted yesterday that there were only enough free cells for women inmates to last another two to three weeks. The overcrowding crisis has been caused by a rapid rise in the number of women being jailed.
Inspections at three jails in England found serious flaws in the way women are being dealt with, and provided a depressing picture of understaffed establishments grappling with deteriorating regimes and conditions. They also identified a growing problem of female inmates forcibly removing drugs hidden inside fellow prisoners. In response to calls by Sir David Ramsbotham, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, to appoint a Director of Women's Prisons, the Prison Service yesterday announced it was setting up a new unit to consider the problems of female inmates. Sir David also echoed penal reformers complaints that that the prison officials were not taking into account the different needs of women inmates to those of male offenders. The inspections took place at Holloway prison in north London, the female unit at Risley, Cheshire, and the women's wing at Low Newton, Durham. Sir David said that significant improvements had been made at Holloway since he took the unprecedented step in December 1995 of withdrawing his team in protest, but still found a catalogue of problems, including "very serious intimidation and violence". He also reported the practice of "crutching" in which women inmates who concealed drugs inside their bodies were overpowered by other prisoners who then forcibly removed the drugs for their own use. …