Prison with blood-stained cell and scratched walls is ‘worst ever seen’ by inspector
Mentally ill women are being held in “appalling” conditions in a prison where some cells are bloodstained and others have “extensively scratched” walls, a watchdog has warned.
The “terrible conditions” were described as the “worst he had seen” by one experienced inspector who visited HMP Eastwood Park, South Gloucestershire in October last year. Three women died at the prison in 2022 and inspectors found that rates of self-harm had increased by 128 per cent since their last inspection in 2019.
Staff used force on prisoners 395 times in the past year - a 75 per cent increase since the previous inspection. The prisons watchdog raised serious concerns about one part of the prison, called house block 4, where women with severe mental health needs were “effectively segregated”.
“The cells were appalling, dilapidated and covered in graffiti, one was blood-spattered, and some had extensive scratches on the walls which reflected the degree of trauma previous residents must have experienced.
“No prisoner should be held in such conditions, let alone women who were acutely unwell and in great distress,” Charlie Taylor, chief inspector of prisons, said.
Currently, 348 women are held in Eastwood Park and the overwhelming majority - 83 per cent - suffer from mental health problems.
Women had difficulty accessing clothing inside the jail and one prisoner had to borrow a bra from her cellmate because she wasn’t able to buy clothes, the report added.
Some 27 per cent of women said they had felt threatened or intimidated by staff and drugs were described as being easy to obtain.
Staff shortages were also acute and inspectors said some women had been sent to the prison when they should have been in a mental health hospital. One patient had to wait 441 days for a transfer to a mental health hospital, inspectors revealed.
Over 1,400 complaints had been submitted about the prison in the 12 months before the inspection - the highest rate of any women’s prison.
Andrea Coomber, chief executive of the Howard League, responded to the report, saying: “The government continues to re-traumatise these women by imprisoning them in deplorable conditions, with no support for their significant mental and physical needs. That the inspectors have found that conditions at Eastwood Park are ‘unsafe’ heaps further shame on a broken system.”
Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “83 per cent of the women locked up in this prison built for young men had mental health problems, all against a pervasive background of homelessness and substance misuse.
“There must surely be a question for the government about why we continue to allow prison to be the place where all these problems have to be addressed.”
A prison service spokesperson said the report was “deeply concerning”. They added: “We are already addressing the serious issues it raises including appointing more staff and creating a new taskforce to improve women’s safety at the prison.”
They added that they have refurbished house block 4 since the October inspection.
Prisoner ‘oversedated’ twice before death
Joanne Harrison had been struggling to stand up just days before she died from the toxic effects of a combination of prescription drugs. She had arrived at HMP Eastwood Park just four days before her death on 23 November 2019.
Healthcare staff at the jail noticed that Ms Harrison appeared to be “oversedated”, according to an ombudsman report, but they did not tell a GP or prison staff.
On the evening of 20 November, Ms Harrison was struggling to stand up and unable to hold a bowl or cutlery. Two days later it was noted that she was “clearly intoxicated stumbling around her cell”.
Ms Harrison was on a methadone programme and an alcohol detox programme. Before her death, a prison GP had identified that the combination of drugs she was on could be potentially toxic, and he had stopped one medication and reduced another.
Inmate died after a ‘fire started in her cell’
Clare Dupree, 48, died after a fire reportedly started in her cell on 28 December last year. The prisons and probation ombudsman are investigating her death.
Woman died within days of arriving at prison
Kelly Quilt, 39, died suddenly after stopping her use of heroin and cocaine when she went into jail. She had only been at Eastwood Park for a couple of days when she was found dead on 21 October 2018.
Ms Quilt had been sentenced to 14 weeks imprisonment on 19 October and experienced opiate withdrawal in jail. The ombudsman raised concerns that no attempt was made to inform Ms Quilt’s family of her death until almost six hours after her death.
Prisoner suffered ‘irreversible brain injury’
Nikita Hansen died from a “significant and irreversible brain injury” after she attempted to take her own life inside Eastwood Park early in 2020.
A report into her death found that on the day that Ms Hansen was found dead “prisoners believed that she had been upset about an argument with her partner that morning.”
“Staff did not know about this,” the report added.
Ms Hansen had a history of mental health problems but the ombudsman found that prison workers couldn’t have reasonably predicted she would attempt to take her own life that day.