Justice CommitteeWritten evidence from HMP Eastwood Park


HMP Eastwood Park is a public sector female local prison, located in rural South Gloucestershire. It is a multi purpose site, holding juvenile females in a specialist unit, a mother and baby unit, and young women and adult offenders. Since the Corston report, a new Unit (Kinnon/Res 8) has been built, with accommodation specifically designed for women.

The geographical area for receptions and discharges is huge, and includes the South West region, all of south and mid Wales, West Mercia, part of the West Midlands region and parts of the south coast. Many prisoners are received from areas of long standing deprivation, with complex issues relating to mental health, addiction and relationships.

The prison works with 8 Probation Trusts, 72 local authority areas, 52 DAAT (Drug Alcohol Action Team) areas and a complex network of Healthcare trusts, Social Services depts. and third sector organisations.

Eastwood Park has the third highest churn of any prison in England and Wales, with an average stay of 29 days but a range of sentences from a few days, to the start of life imprisonment. Eastwood Park is seen as unique within the prison system due to the churn, geographical catchment area and the complexity of it’s prisoners (source Population Management Unit)

In response to an annual needs analysis, 71% of prisoners are parents, 10%+ are foreign nationals and an increasing proportion are older women (50+). 80% were in receipt of benefits on reception with only 16% in employment. Substance misuse, lifestyle and mental health problems were the most commonly cited reasons for offending. In common with other women’s prisons, self harm is endemic and providing a safe prison is a preoccupation for staff. *

This submission focuses on three main themes raised in the Corston report namely,

Equal outcomes require different approaches

Who’s in charge? the need for visible leadership

How women experience prison—the need for a radically different approach.

Equal outcomes require different approaches

1. In the years immediately post Corston, much was achieved which has now become embedded in normal practice—PSI 40/2007 introduced a requirement to gender assess all new policy. May 2008, saw the publication of PSO 4800 which gave individual prisons a framework for the management of women prisoners and advice on regimes, whilst in October 2008, PSI 38/2008 (enacted 2009) brought an end to the routine strip searching so heavily criticised by Baroness Corston. WASP (Women Awareness Staff Programme) and SWICC (Sex Workers In Custody & Community,formerly Sex Workers In Prison) training developed a bedrock of formal training on women’s offending for Prison and Probation staff which is ongoing.

2. The development of two additional pathways for women (8&9) who have experienced domestic and sexual violence and for women who have worked in the sex industry, focused attention on factors which are overwhelmingly gender specific and which relate to both offending and vulnerability. Eden House, a model Corston project, was opened in Bristol with one stop shops developing across the country, such as Isis in Gloucester and Turnaround in Cardiff providing risk reduction and resettlement opportunities for women offenders. Diversification in establishments across the estate has included the Primrose Project for personality disordered women in Low Newton and PIPE units (Psychologically Informed Planned Environments) at two other establishments recognising some of the mental health issues experienced by women prisoners. There is indeed much to celebrate.

3. The diversity drive was initially recognised in central NOMS leads, mirrored by women offender champions in Probation Trusts and in local fora. Although some local champions still exist there is a sense in which they have been overwhelmed by other issues, particularly local delivery and other government drivers. There is little evidence so far of “radically transformed services” and service development has been sporadic, dependant upon locality including provision for under 18s.

4. At Eastwood Park, the Interventions Unit was established which worked to develop partnerships and local responses with third sector and voluntary agencies in the home area of the prisoner. These partnerships have to reflect both the complexity of the population and the geographical spread of their discharge areas. This has been hugely successful but the pace of change across this area has been challenging and the issues now facing us reflect both the increasingly localised government agenda and the climate of austerity. Local authority boundaries and structures have evolved and changed as rationalisation programmes and the need to reduce costs has grown. Probation Trusts have also undergone a revolution with a series of amalgamations and restructing.

5. Partnership agencies themselves face funding difficulties which make continuity of service, and the practical issues of funding in reach to Eastwood Park stretching. As an example, Platform 51 formerly worked with women prisoners returning to Cornwall (a European Social Fund Priority area). We have recently been informed that another provider has taken over this work, commissioned by the Devon and Cornwall Probation Trust. This work is important and worthy of attention, but a new provider will have a plethora of new information/new working methods which will need to be absorbed, with only an average of 11 women from Cornwall being held at any one time (4%) of the population. Replicated across the three regions that Eastwood Park serves, one can see the challenge: additionally this particular new arrangement is only guaranteed until April 2013 and our general experience is of pilot or fixed term funding not being renewed. Hibiscus is our only partnership for Foreign National prisoners and their work in Eastwood Park is highly valued and supported by Diversity staff. We are fearful that the necessity of reducing costs could affect this important provision.

6. Larger areas where one would see more volume benefits, eg South Wales, have struggled to provide a sustained service due to the demands of both the Probation Trust and partnerships restructuring and reduced funding. This can adversely affect engagement as women become reluctant to invest in working with agencies where personnel and services are in a state of flux and where succession planning can be a visible threat. The handshake test, where offenders are passed from one worker to another through various departments, can inadvertently mirror some difficult and chaotic personal experiences for women offenders.

Who’s in charge? The need for visible leadership

7. Post Corston, Maria Eagle’s appointment as a ministerial champion for women in the criminal justice was welcomed but this role has not been continued by the present government. The Interdepartmental Ministerial Group for women was convened but we are not aware if it is currently meeting. One stop shops or women’s centres have developed but not in relation to a published national strategy. Newer initiatives such as the Specification, Benchmarking and Costing programme, Prison industries and Integrated Offender Management are primarily focused on male prisoners with women prisoners seen as an add on with no separate gender specific initiatives.

8. The Women’s Team for Her Majesty’s Prison Service, which managed allocations across the female estate according to published criteria, advised on the “critical few” within the estate and published the national directory of services, has been reduced and subsumed within the office of the NOMS Women and Equality lead. National meetings held regularly which drew the female estate together have disbanded. Although an evolution of these arrangements was needed, there is now a vacuum. An advantage of the new lead will be her ability to look at a higher level of departmental integration, which may lead to a more visible leadership on addressing the multiple and complex needs of women.

9. The gender equality duty is felt to have provided leverage, particularly with commissioning services externally, Healthcare and substance misuse commissioning being examples of success locally.

10. OLASS 4 (Offenders Learning And Skills Service) is the recently commissioned education service in custody. Corston identified life skills training as an important issue in the ETE (Education Training Employment) pathway but a reduced budget and timetable, with a lower educational attainment, is a concern locally and with OFSTED (Office of Standards in Education).

11. In terms of cross cutting departmental work, there remain particular offender groups which would benefit from joint work, female arsonists being an example. Although nearly 80% of female prisoners sentenced to Indeterminate Public Protection sentences (IPPs) are arsonists, and this group are of concern to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons, there is no national strategy for their management, despite this group exhibiting the most complex difficulties and behaviours including serious mental illness, significant self harm, previous abuse issues, learning disabilities, complicated grief and social exclusion. We would suggest that they, more than most, would benefit from Department of Health/Ministry of Justice work, particularly on information sharing protocols.

12. The Troubled Families agenda, currently located in local authorities, would also seem an opportunity for joint working, particularly given the research on transgenerational imprisonment, and the shared issues on substance misuse and accommodation.

How women experience prison—the need for a radically different approach

13. Since the Corston report, the female estate has shrunk with the rerole of Morton Hall, to 13 female establishments. The Government rejected the establishment of local multi functional custodial sentences as not being viable and this has not progressed.

14. Distance from home remains a significant issue for women here, with Haverfordwest being almost as far from Eastwood Park as Manchester (and Truro further). Transfers are complex and throw up moral dilemmas regarding the displacement of these women even further afield, or displacing those more local to Eastwood Park, and sharing the pain

15. Particularly worthy of note is the need for mothers to keep in touch with, and see, young children and the need for older women to keep in touch with partners who are sometimes frail and struggling to manage. Devices designed to assist with local reintegration, such as release on temporary licence can be compromised due to expense and/or the practicalities of long distance travel for a short period of release.

16. As there is currently insufficient accommodation to keep all women from our catchment area, risk reduction work, on accredited programmes particularly or in specialist provision, can conflict with resettlement needs, with only return for local release softening the blow.

17. Research tells us that multiple moves adversely affect self harm issues and this is part of the assessment to transfer process. There is no doubt that the fragmentation of family relationships caused by distance from home adversely affects well being and raises safer custody issues for many prisoners and wing staff are alert to this. Prisoners consistently self report this as an issue whilst serving their sentences.

18. Sentencing practice does not seem to have altered, and women are still received here for not paying council tax, for not sending children to school, and for other low risk offences. There is still a sense in which courts judge women more harshly for the same offending: Between December 2010 and December 2011, 81% of women had entered custody for a non violent offence, compared with 70% of men (MOJ 2012).

19. Accommodation in the community, identified by Baroness Corston as “in the most need of speedy reform” remains a concern. Our Accommodation Officer reports a significant disinvestment from local authorities in services for prisoners, particularly those who are homeless. Wales, which retained a duty to house long after England, is now reviewing this. Some areas of the south west popular with holiday makers have little emergency accommodation and some is unsafe for women, ie shared gender dormitories, or tents. With women experiencing greater levels of poverty, regaining accommodation can take years. Provision for temporary accommodation with children remains very limited.

20. Women denied bail were identified as a cause for concern in Corston and our bail services are directed to assist with second appearance applications. Undertaking resettlement planning with women whose release is only a possibility, (and with the date unconfirmed) is problematic. Accommodation providers will not hold beds in advance and women can be bailed from court with insufficient funds to make the journey home, let alone obtain accommodation.

21. In looking specifically at high risk women offenders, the paucity of approved premises, including beds for young offenders is disappointing and has reduced in the South West since Corston. One prisoner recently had to travel to Leeds (home area Dorset) for an AP placement which unsurprisingly broke down immediately despite the best efforts of staff. Another 18 year old prisoner, a Critical Public Protection Case, has not been accepted anywhere as no bed is thought suitable in the estate and will undergo a form of national arbitration. Our nearest Approved Premises are now in Birmingham or Reading. Low volume and the large catchment area can reduce service provision as in the case of BASS provision (Bail Accommodation and Support Services) where there is insufficient volume of referrals for some projects; as a consequence beds have been rerolled to male prisoners. Women prisoners are reluctant to be considered for out of area placements—there is no provision for example in Wales, west of Cardiff or in the south west, west of Plymouth. BASS do not take high risk of harm offenders in any event.

18. It is still hoped that Eden House may be able to offer diverse accommodation in the future, and accommodation with children, which will be most welcome and would integrate with their well established day services programme. This will be dependant on future commissioning.

*The annual needs analysis for 2012 has recently been undertaken and could be available for the Committee to see.

September 2012

Prepared 12th July 2013