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Last Updated: Monday, 26 February 2007, 20:14 GMT
Women's prison 'learning lessons'
New Hall prison
Eleven prison inmates have taken their lives in four years
The head of a prison where 11 women have taken their own lives in four years said lessons were being learnt.

Governor of New Hall in Wakefield, Sara Snell, said procedures were being improved at the jail, which holds more than 300 female prisoners.

Anne Owers, the chief inspector of prisons, said in 2003 that the prison was holding women and girls who "should not be there".

She said many inmates needed treatment for mental health problems, not jail.

'Insufficient care'

An inquest into the death of 37-year-old Mandy Pearson in 2004, which concluded last week, ruled that she should never have been jailed.

Giving evidence at the inquest, Ms Owers said she was concerned that prisons were being used as a "default setting for those we do not have the proper resources to look after in the community".

Outside court she told the BBC: "They come into prison, often more vulnerable than men, and twice as likely to have mental health issues.

"About half of them will have experienced some kind of abuse in their pasts.

"I think we are failing to provide a sufficient variety of care that women need."

Hairdressing at New Hall
Inmates can study for qualifications in hairdressing

Ms Snell said New Hall was always trying to improve procedure.

She said: "Every death in custody involves the letting down of an individual and her family.

"We can't give any guarantees, the thing we can guarantee is that we learn from every incident that we have - both deaths and near misses - and that we improve our procedure wherever we can."

Among the facilities at the prison is a specialist unit allowing newborn babies to stay with their mothers until they are nine months old.

Prison inmates are able to study for qualifications in subjects such as hairdressing, to prepare them for life on the outside.

Prisons chief speaks at inquest
21 Feb 07 |  West Yorkshire
Woman found hanging in jail cell
13 Oct 04 |  West Yorkshire

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