HMP/YOI Bronzefield - too many women released without stable accomodation

Read the report: HMP/YOI Bronzefield

HMP/YOI Bronzefield, a privately-run prison for female adults and young offenders, saw its scores drop in the areas of respect and release and rehabilitation planning in its latest inspection.

Inspectors from HM Inspectorate of Prisons judged outcomes for women in all four healthy prison tests – safety, respect, purposeful activity, and release and rehabilitation planning – to be ‘reasonably good’. Encouraging findings in education and purposeful activity were let down by a lack of support and proper preparation for women on release. These struggles were exacerbated by an ongoing staff shortage in the prison.

Inspectors were concerned to find that 65% of women were leaving Bronzefield, the largest women’s prison in the UK, without safe and sustainable accommodation. Staffing cuts in domestic abuse support and the resettlement team created further weaknesses in release planning.

Charlie Taylor, Chief Inspector of Prisons, said:

“Without stable, safe accommodation many women are liable to have mental health relapses, return to substance misuse and become involved in crime on release, creating more victims and, at great cost to the taxpayer, repeating the cycle and undoing the good work of the prison.”

Bronzefield’s health care had undergone some improvements. Leaders had shown a genuine commitment to addressing the health-related recommendations made by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman in the wake of the death of a baby born at the prison in 2019. This included the development of a mental health perinatal team and enhanced working links with maternity services in the community. But in other areas health care provision was lacking. A shortage of pharmacy staff led to delays in medication provision and disorganisation in storing medicine, and prisoners with longer-term health conditions, such as asthma, did not have a care plan.

Inspectors were pleased to see that the 73% of prisoners who identified as having a mental health condition were being decently cared for. Mental health services were responsive and provided a good range of interventions. The psychological therapies team delivered good support through different therapeutic styles. Too many women, however, were still being held in custody as a ‘place of safety’ for acute mental health problems – a phenomenon which is particularly common in female prisons. The prison was collecting data about this but more needed to be done outside of the prison system to establish the true extent of the problem and begin to address it.

The prison had responded well to the challenges of pandemic restrictions and inspectors were reasonably satisfied with the amount and quality of purposeful activity offered to the women. In our survey, 61% of inmates said they could go to the gym or play sports twice a week or more, compared with 36% at other women’s prisons.

There was an appropriate range of exercise sessions for different groups, including morning yoga for those in the shielding unit and ‘buggy fit’ classes for mothers in the mother and baby unit. Access to the library was good and the provision was excellent. Our survey showed that far more women than at other prisons inspected recently had a positive view of the library.

Mr Taylor said:

“Bronzefield is a well-run prison with a strong, experienced director and leadership team who are committed to improving outcomes for women. They have shown a willingness to consider innovative ways to do this and desire to influence national policy.

“They will inevitably be disappointed with the scores in this inspection which have declined in the areas of respect and rehabilitation and release planning, but there is much to build on after a difficult two years.”

– End –

Notes to editors

  1. Read the HMP/YOI Bronzefield report, published on 11 May 2022.
  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. Bronzefield opened in June 2004 and was the first purpose-built, privately operated prison for women. In 2016, it increased its capacity following the closure of HMP Holloway. It accepts women directly from over 90 courts.
  4. Bronzefield is a resettlement and reception prison that also holds restricted status prisoners (those considered to require specific management arrangements). It is also the national hub for female offenders held under the Terrorism Act.
  5. At the time of this inspection, the establishment held 468 women.
  6. Inspectors identified five examples of notable positive practice.
  7. This inspection took place on 24 January and 31 January – 4 February 2022.
  8. HMI Prisons has also published a blog from Sandra Fieldhouse on the issue of women prisoners being released into the community without a suitable place to live. Sandra leads on the inspection of women’s prisons for HM Inspectorate of Prisons.
  9. Please call Ed Owen on 07774 759653 if you would like more information.