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Inside Out: Surprising Stories, Familiar Places

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   Inside Out - East: Monday 18th October, 2004

INSIDE A WOMEN'S PRISON

Highpoint prisoners

Prisons are facing overcrowding. The population of women's prisons has been increasing dramatically. Sally Chidzoy was given unprecedented access to Highpoint Prison in Suffolk.

Women are increasingly turning to crime, and the country's female prison population has more than doubled since 1993.

Many gaols are reaching bursting point.

We go inside Highpoint Prison and look at the personal stories of women inmates there.

Inside Highpoint Prison

There are about 200 women prisoners at Highpoint Prison.

Prison warden
Prison life can be especially tough for women inmates

The majority (58%) are serving sentences for drug related offences compared with 22% for male prisoners.

A high proportion of female prisoners (55%) are from ethnic groups, mostly drugs mules.

Most of the women prisoners at Highpoint are mothers. The majority have children under 16 and many have seen their youngsters taken into care.

Meet a woman prisoner...

Michelle Brodie is 38 years old and she has spent 25 years of her life in and out of prison. She's currently serving 16 months for handling stolen goods.

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Michelle Brodie
MICHELLE BRODIE
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Michelle was raped in a children's home as a child, and her life went from bad to worse.

She developed a £1,000 a day drug habit and did credit card fraud to pay for her daily fix.

As Michelle explains,"I was on self destruct at the time. I just couldn't stop. I was committing a lot of crime. I had a £1,000 a day crack habit."

Prison Facts

Over half of women prisoners suffer from some form of personality disorder.

25% of prisoners are from the ethnic minority communities, 20% of those are foreign nationals, mostly drug mules.

One of the most famous prisoners at Highpoint is Myra Hindley who is held in isolation away from other inmates.

There's been a rise in custodial sentences. Ten years ago, one in 26 women defendants were jailed, now it's one in 13.

"Once I started taking crack I seemed to be ..... my criminality went up and so did my drug habit. You know, things that I never thought I'd do for drugs I did. People I never thought I'd rob for drugs, I did."

"I think the judge actually said to me it was best for me to die and I think he was probably right...."

"I started using alcohol at 11 and when I got to London I started using heroin."

Michelle is now determined to go straight after going through a year of drug rehab. She's training to be a painter and decorator with help from Highpoint Prison.

"I just want to be happy really. I haven't any long term goals - just being drug free and having a life," says Michelle poignantly.

The UK's prison crisis...

So why are the numbers of women offenders on the increase?

Prisoner in cell at Highpoint
A prisoner's cell at Highpoint

For many women, their problems start early with a history of abuse, drug use and violence.

Sue Doolan, the Governor of Highpoint Prison highlights the crux of the problem.

"I think one of the major underlying causes is drug problems."

"The number of short sentenced women is rising particularly. We have 19 womens' prisons and very shortly they're all going to be full."

One of the biggest challenges will be to accommodate this growth.

See also ...

On the rest of the web
Women and Prison
Home Office Review of Women and Prison
Prison reform
Howard League
NACRO
Prison Service

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