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Last Updated: Sunday, 16 November, 2003, 14:30 GMT
Suicides prompt 'She Wing' closure call
Durham Prison
More than 100 women are held at Durham Prison
A prison reform group has called for the high security women's unit of Durham Jail to be closed after the suicide of another inmate.

Police said 35-year-old Wendy Booth from West Yorkshire, who was serving a life sentence for murder, was discovered in her cell by prison staff on 12 November.

Police said attempts to revive her at the scene failed.

Now the Howard League for Penal Reform has called for the high security women's centre - known as the She Wing - to be closed.

A spokeswoman said: "Durham is small and there is an over-concentration on security.

"After the high number of deaths it is time women were moved out of there.

"These women are unlikely to escape, they are not members of gangs or major criminal networks.

"They require a better level of support - they have not been sent there to die."

Worst record

In 2002, the Prison Reform Trust said more inmates took their own lives at Durham Prison, than at any other jail in the country - six suicide deaths were recorded at Durham last year.

The trust said 13 female inmates had taken their own life while in custody this year - the worst ever record for the British jails system.

Policy officer Enver Solomon said Durham Prison was well-run, but staff were under pressure because of overcrowding.

He said: "Last year it had the highest number of suicides, but that is not because it is a bad jail.

"The problem is the pressures in the system it is having to cope with."

He added officers may not have enough time to spend on vulnerable or depressed prisoners.

In September, a jury returned an open verdict on the death of Durham Jail inmate Beverley Fowler, a Jamaican drug mule who was found dead in her cell just days before she was due to be released and deported.

Regime defended

After the hearing, pressure group Inquest criticised the regime at the jail, Britain's only high-security unit for women which houses more than 100 inmates, claiming staff were overstretched.

Ms Fowler's death in October 2002 was one of four on the unit in a nine-month period.

Durham governor Mike Newell has defended the prison's regime, saying: "We try to support constantly any individuals who have crises.

"We have support staff working daily with individual people to help them through the fact that they are in custody for a very long time."

A Prison Service spokeswoman added: "We are overhauling the way the female population is managed so we can tailor prisoners' movements more appropriately to the needs of the women concerned.

"We do accept that suicides have risen over the past few years, and we are in the middle of a three-year strategy to reduce self-harm."

Woman found hanged at prison
14 Nov 03  |  Wear
Prison criticised over cell death
19 Sep 03  |  England
Prison hangings 'not connected'
03 Oct 02  |  England

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