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Wednesday, 11 July, 2001, 17:36 GMT 18:36 UK
'New prison needed for women'
women's prison
Updated report on women's prisons
The Chief Inspector of Prisons is calling for a new high security unit for women to be created in the south of England.

Sir David Ramsbotham, who steps down from his post at the end of the month, said conditions for women inmates needed improving.

Only one high security unit for women exists in England and Wales at Durham.

Sir David said Durham, which holds 41 inmates, should either be supplemented with a unit in the south or replaced by a new unit in the midlands.

Sir David Ramsbotham
Sir David Ramsbotham, Chief Inspector of Prisons

Despite achievements by the Prison Service, he warned there was still a long way to go.

He was updating a 1997 report on the state of women's prisons.

Since the report, Women In Prison, the female jail population has risen from 2,600 to nearly 3,800.

The creation of a unit further south would reduce the distance between inmates and their homes and families, he said.

"When you look at the women who are held there and how far away they are from where they come from, then common sense and the cost of putting them there seems to me daft," he said.

'More open prisons'

Sir David said security restrictions for holding women should also be reviewed.

More use should be made of open conditions, including resettlement prisons from which women can go out into the community, he said.

"The women do not need the same physical degree of security as men. It is a waste of public money."

The women do not need the same physical degree of security as men. It is a waste of public money

Sir David Ramsbotham
One of the major complaints in the report was that girls under 18 who are on remand are being made to share cells with convicted adults, said Sir David.

This was "absolutely out of the question" he said. The matter had been reported directly to the Home Secretary after it was discovered in Holloway Prison, North London, before Christmas.

Holloway itself urgently needed reviewing because in its current form the jail was "virtually unmanageable" because of the wide range of prisoners it contains, said the inspector.

Sir David also voiced concerned that the two most senior prison service managers responsible for women's jails are both men.

"It's not that I doubt the capability of either of them but it doesn't send the right message around the women's estate."

He repeated concerns raised in 1997 that far too many women were being jailed by the courts unnecessarily.

Sir David said about a third of women did not need to be in jail at all. But he welcomed comments made by the new Home Secretary David Blunkett, questioning the worth of short jail sentences.

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