HMP Eastwood Park – a well-led women's prison, showing signs of being under strain

HMP Eastwood Park provided some good care to women, but was less stable than previously, said Peter Clarke, Chief Inspector of Prisons. Today he published the report of an unannounced inspection of the women’s prison in Gloucestershire.

HMP Eastwood Park held around 400 women, 100 more than at its last inspection in 2013. The prison housed women with varied circumstances, including those remanded by the courts, a number serving very long sentences and a small group serving indeterminate sentences. It also held some young adult women aged 18 to 21. Most of the women spent short periods at the prison before being released or moved to another prison. The prison served a wide catchment area which had been extended further following the closure of HMP Holloway to encompass nearly all of the south-western quarter of England and Wales.

The population remained vulnerable. Many women were a long way from home, which was a problem for those with dependent children. Nearly half of the women had a disability and over three quarters reported mental health or emotional well-being issues. Over half of women said they had issues with drugs, while over a third reported having alcohol problems. Levels of self-harm had increased and were relatively high overall. Many women continued to report a history of abuse, rape, domestic violence and involvement in prostitution. There had been three self-inflicted deaths in 2016, the first at Eastwood Park for many years.

Inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • the prison remained reasonably safe for most women;
  • care and support for the most vulnerable women was generally strong and good relationships and time out of their cells and activities mitigated some other problems;
  •  issues with illegal drugs and the diversion of prescribed medications were generally well managed and disciplinary processes were used proportionately;
  • the high levels of mental health need were being matched with some very good treatment;
  • staff-prisoner relationships remained strong, although staffing shortages had led to some staff being very stretched;
  • work, training and education were generally well managed; and
  • work to resettle women back into the community remained reasonably good but more needed to be done to involve women in sentence planning.

However, inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • levels of violence had increased and, while most problems were minor, more women than previously, or compared with similar prisons, said in a survey that they felt unsafe at some time or they had been victimised by other prisoners;
  • like other women’s local resettlement prisons, Eastwood Park had significant problems supporting women to find secure accommodation on release; and
  • although support in maintaining and developing contact with families was generally good, many women had not had a visit while at the prison, and the prison needed to explore the reasons behind this and offer support if appropriate.

Peter Clarke said:

“We still considered Eastwood Park to be a well-led, generally safe and decent prison, but it was showing signs of being under strain. Staffing levels had not kept pace with the rise in population, nor with its increasing complexity. This had been recognised and Eastwood Park was among 10 prisons that would be prioritised to receive additional resources and support. Efforts to understand the recent self-inflicted deaths needed to continue, and urgent action should be taken to address any deficiencies. The increase in violence needed to be addressed with renewed vigour, and aspects of the prison’s activities and resettlement provision required further work.

“Nevertheless, the prison had a good staff culture that underpinned decent and respectful relationships with the women held. The prison’s committed leadership and staff needed to galvanise their efforts to address challenges, capitalise on the opportunities presented by the forthcoming injection of additional resources, and build on the strengths of the institution.”

– ENDS –

Notes to editors:

  1. A copy of the full report, published on 9 March 2017, can be found here.
  2.  HM Inspectorate of Prisons is an independent inspectorate, inspecting places of detention to report on conditions and treatment, and promote positive outcomes for those detained and the public.
  3. HMP Eastwood Park is a closed women’s resettlement prison.
  4. This unannounced inspection was carried out from 7–18 November 2016.
  5.  Please contact Jane Parsons at HM Inspectorate of Prisons press office on 020 3681 2775 or 07880 787452 if you would like more information.