December 12 2013 Latest news:
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Women prisoners at a London jail are being exposed to “intimidation and abuse” by private contractors who force them to travel in escort vans with male inmates.
The revelations came after an unannounced inspection of HMP Holloway in Islington, the largest women’s prison in Europe, and have led to the Prison Reform Trust saying that transport of livestock is better regulated.
In his report, Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick said: “Women spent long periods in escort vehicles shared with men before arriving at the prison. Some vehicles did not have privacy screening, exposing women to the possibility of intimidation and abuse.”
Women prisoners faced lengthy journeys as male inmates were taken to jail first because reception areas in men’s prisons have a fixed cut-off time, HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) said.
Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “It’s time to call a halt to transporting women, many of whom have been victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence, with men in prison vans where too often they are subject to long delays and intimidation.
“In London and elsewhere, women are regularly dropped off last after long, gruelling journeys from prison to prison because prison escorts know that staff in women’s prisons will stay late to receive vulnerable women entering custody while staff in men’s prisons shut their doors earlier.
“Overall transport of livestock is better regulated than transportation of prisoners.”
Serco Wincanton transfers inmates between prisons, police stations and courts in London and the east of England, including The Royal Courts of Justice and the Old Bailey.
Mr Hardwick said Holloway prison has become safer but still has work to do, but the jail, which can hold nearly 600 inmates, is a difficult prison to run due to its size and poor design.
The prison did not do enough to help women have positive relationships with their children and families and too few activity places were used, he said.
Michael Spurr, chief executive of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), said: “Staff at Holloway deal with a really challenging population, including many vulnerable women with complex needs, and I am pleased that this inspection acknowledges the excellent work being done by the governor and her staff.
“The progress made reflects their commitment, care and dedication. The task is difficult and we will use the recommendations in the report to support further improvement over the next 12 months.”
A Prison Service spokesman said: “Women and men are normally transported separately, but for operational reasons it is sometimes necessary for them to travel together.
“In exceptional circumstances when they are transported in vehicles without partitions, cases are individually considered and any potential risks are carefully managed.”