HMP Eastwood Park - Safe and respectful but some units not fit for purpose

HMP Eastwood Park, a closed women’s prison near Bristol with a catchment area including Wales, was found to have remained a safe, respectful and purposeful prison over the last three years.

However, Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said the latest inspection in May 2019 raised concerns about “completely inappropriate” conditions in the prison’s three closed blocks – units 1, 2 and 3. Inspectors were also concerned about the number of women released homeless.

At the time of the inspection in May 2019, Eastwood Park held just under 400 women. It was last inspected in November 2016. In 2019, assessments of safety, respect and purposeful activity had remained at reasonably good, though resettlement work had slipped to not sufficiently good.

Mr Clarke said: “Eastwood Park has a huge catchment area, including much of Wales. Consequently, half the women were being held more than 50 miles from home, and over one-third never received any visits. As with all women’s prisons, the population included many with very complex needs, and many who had been victimised in a variety of ways before coming into custody.”

He added: “Overall, we found that Eastwood Park remained a safe, respectful and purposeful prison.” Most prisoners said staff treated them with respect, they were increasingly consulted about their experiences in the prison, and we saw many positive interactions with staff.”

However, the prison needed to “think very carefully” about whether it was necessary for some women to be segregated for extended periods. “The practice of segregating women on residential wings also had a detrimental knock-on effect on the regime of the rest of the prisoners who were not in segregation.”

Mr Clarke said that although, by and large, living conditions in the prison were good, “the accommodation provided on Units 1-3 were completely inappropriate for a women’s prison.”

Inspectors found that women in Units 1-3 felt less respected. They were often unnecessarily locked up during the working day while segregated prisoners were allowed ‘domestic time’ and exercise.

The report noted: “In our survey, 47% of prisoners on residential units 1, 2 and 3 said that it was easy to get drugs at the prison, and one in five that they had developed a drug problem while at the establishment. There was also evidence of prisoners taking medication that had not been prescribed to them; in our survey, 32% of respondents on residential units 1, 2 and 3 said that they had developed a problem with taking medication which had not been prescribed to them since being at the prison.”

Mr Clarke said: “On entering these units, I was immediately struck by the sight of rows of women’s faces pressed against the open observation hatches of their locked doors, peering out into the narrow, dark, cell block corridor. It was as if they were waiting for something or indeed anything to happen, however mundane, to relieve the monotony of their existence.

“Unless something radical can be done to improve the conditions on these units, then serious consideration should be given to closing them. At present they are simply not fit for purpose.”

The assessment of resettlement had declined and the complexity of the population clearly had an impact on the provision of effective offender management and resettlement services: 73% of prisoners said they had mental health problems, and around half had problems with illicit drug use.

In the months leading up to the inspection, a “worryingly high” 42% women had been released homeless and were left either to live on the streets or to go to temporary emergency accommodation.

Mr Clarke said: “I spoke to several prisoners who had previously experienced this and had either re-offended or felt it was inevitable that they would do so if released again in similar circumstances. In many ways this is an issue that is beyond the control of the prison, but more support does need to be given before release.”

– End –

Notes to editors

  1. A copy of the full report, published on 28 August 2019, 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 prison situated in a semi-rural area to the north of Bristol. At the time of this inspection, it held slightly fewer than 400 prisoners. It was last inspected in November 2016. Eastwood Park opened as a women’s prison in March 1996, admitting prisoners from HMP Pucklechurch. The prison opened a mother and baby unit in 2004 and the Mary Carpenter Unit for 17-year-old girls in 2005. The Mary Carpenter Unit closed in 2013 and reopened as the Nexus Programme Unit in 2015. The Kinnon Unit, a substance use unit, opened in 2009.
  4. Notable features from this inspection: Eastwood Park received prisoners from many courts, covering a wide geographical area, including South and West Wales; 49% of prisoners were located more than 50 miles from home and over a third of prisoners did not receive any visits; 43% of prisoners were in custody for the first time, and 33% had served five sentences or more; 36% of prisoners had been at the prison for less than three months; 73% of prisoners in our survey said that they had mental health issues, and 48% that they had problems with drugs; 15% of prisoners had been assessed as presenting a high risk of harm to others.
  5. This unannounced inspection took place between 3 – 17 May 2019.
  6. Please contact Barbara Buchanan at HM Inspectorate of Prisons on 020 3334 0353 or at if you would like more information.