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Chief inspector of prisons’ visit to Styal prison finds too many women with mental health issues still serving short-term sentences: Together’s response.

Posted on 20, January 2012

Together supports Chief Inspector of Prisons, Nick Hardwick’s disappointment that too many women with mental health issues continue to serve short-term prison sentences, as expressed in a recent report1 he published following a visit to Styal prison in July of last year.

In the report following his inspection of Styal women’s prison in Cheshire the Chief Inspector comments: The deaths of six women at Styal prison between 2002 and 2003 led to the commissioning of the review of vulnerable women in prison by Baroness Corston. Published in 2007, it recommended a drastic reduction in the use of women’s imprisonment. It was therefore disappointing to find too many cases of women, some of whom are clearly mentally ill, serving very short prison sentences which served little purpose except to further disrupt sometimes already chaotic lives.”

Together believes that women offenders with mental health issues who pose no threat to the public should not be in prison but should receive support in the community, to tackle their offending and address their health and social care needs.

It has long been known that the vast majority of women offenders in the country’s prisons have mental health problems. Together believes that the very experience of locking women up, often separating them from their children, can actually exacerbate their problems. Because many are on short-term sentences, there is inadequate time and resources to tackle their mental health problems and many leave prison having lost their homes, jobs and children; making the cycle of offending almost inevitable.

Through its Forensic Mental Health Practitioner Service, Together has been working with offenders for nearly 20 years. Operations and Development Manager, Linda Bryant says: “This report demonstrates again that more needs to be done to address mental health and social care problems to prevent women being at risk of offending and ending up being given custodial sentences in the first place.

“Our experience has shown us that prison is not a successful setting for tackling the often complex social and emotional needs of women offenders. Moreover, a prison sentence can result in women on release finding themselves homeless, unemployed and therefore unable to care for or be reunited with their children, many of whom will have been put into care. The impact on the family unit can be devastating.

“Diverting female offenders to the community where their mental health needs, which are often a factor in their offending can be addressed via a combined, multi-agency approach and their relationship with their children maintained, reduces re-offending rates and makes better use of resources”.

Together works with female offenders through its diversion and offender management programmes and runs a women’s court liaison and outreach project at Thames Magistrates’ Court in London.

1 ‘Report on an unannounced follow-up visit inspection of HMP Styal 5-15 July 2011 by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons’ published January 2012, page 6: http://www.justice.gov.uk/downloads/publications/inspectorate-reports/hmipris/styal-2011.pdf

For further information please contact Robyn Clark, PR & Marketing Officer at Together, Tel: 0207 780 7300/07734 870065 or Email: robyn-clark@together-uk.org