Women’s Day Behind Bars
by Masha Bennett www.practicalhappiness.co.uk
On the international Women’s Day 8th March, I have been reading some sobering facts and statistics about women in prisons. A few years ago I managed a drug rehabilitation unit at Her Majesty’s Prison Styal in Cheshire, and the repeated mention of this prison in the press was especially poignant for me.
- Incidents of self-harm among women prisoners are increasing – 10,446 cases in England during 2009, rising to 12,663 in 2010. Analysis by Women in Prison estimates that the figure is likely to rise above 13,000 – more than 35 a day.
- There are 4,100 women in prison (5% of all inmates in England and Wales), yet they account for almost half of all self-harm incidents.
- The average literacy and numeracy level among women in prison is comparable to a young child at secondary school. Only 39% have any qualifications at all, compared to 82% of the general population.
- 70% of women prisoners have two or more diagnosed mental health issues.
- The average cost of a woman’s prison place is £43,000 per year, compared with an intensive community order that costs £10,000-£15,000 and delivers significantly lower reoffending rates.
- Nick Hardwick, the Chief Inspector of Prisons and a former chair of the Independent Police Complaints Commission, following his recent visit to HM Prison Styal said that the plight of women inside Keller Unit (which accommodates the most vulnerable prisoners) “more shocking and distressing than anything I have yet seen on an inspection”.
- 37% of all women sent to prison say that they have attempted suicide at some time during their life
- 66% of women prisoners are mothers, and approximately 17,700 children are separated from their mothers each year through imprisonment
- Foreign national women form 1/7th of the prison population in England and Wales are disproportionately frequently sentenced to prison sentences for non-violent, non-sexual and non-robbery offences – 15% of foreign nationals are serving sentences for serious crimes compared to 41% of UK nationals, with the remainder imprisoned for less serious offences for which non-custodial sentences could be more appropriate
- 66% of sentenced women in prison say there were either drug dependent or drinking to hazardous levels before custody
- One in four women in prison has spent time in local authority care as child
- The Chief Inspector of Prisons’ report following his visit to Styal states: ” 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.”
The Guardian article from which I borrowed some of the above information, detals some truly harrowing examples of the level of distress and mental health issues that many of women prisoners are experiencing.
Masha Bennett is a UKCP registered psychotherapist and a trainer of EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques). She has worked for a number of years within the criminal justice system, including running a drug rehabilitation programme in a women’s prison, and currently combines work in the UK National Health Service with her private therapy and training practice. Masha teaches EFT, trauma awareness and self-help tools to professionals and general public across 10 countries in Europe, Asia and Middle East. Her websites are www.practicalhappiness.co.uk and www.eft4addictions.co.uk.
Women’s Prisons in desperate need of reform, says former governor. The Guardian, 11 February 2012