Styal women's prison mental health unit 'shocking'

HMP Styal Nick Hardwick said Styal prison had improved

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A special unit for women with mental health problems at a jail in Cheshire is "wholly unsuitable", an inspection has found.

Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick said an unannounced visit found Styal prison had improved.

But he said the condition of the women in the mental health unit was "more shocking and distressing than anything I have yet seen on an inspection".

The Ministry of Justice said the unit could be supplemented or replaced.

'Very seriously damaged'

Inspectors found staff are overstretched at the prison's Keller unit.

"Despite the best efforts of the staff at Styal, the Keller unit remains a wholly unsuitable place to safely hold and manage very seriously damaged and mentally ill women," said Mr Hardwick.

"The staff I met on the Keller unit were deeply impressive. Nevertheless, the circumstances of the women on the Keller unit were more shocking and distressing than anything I have yet seen on an inspection.

"So long as these women remain in prison there is a need to ensure that they receive similar resources to those provided for the most disruptive men in close supervision."

The chief inspector said the inspection of the jail, near Wilmslow, was positive overall and it was apparent that the "upward curve" of recent improvements had been maintained.

He said a national review into vulnerable women in jail by Baroness Corston in 2007 had recommended a reduction of the number of women in jail.

This review was prompted by the death of six women in Styal between 2002 and 2003.

'Committed to building'

Mr Hardwick added: "It was therefore disappointing to find too many cases of women, some of whom were clearly mentally ill, serving very short prison sentences which served little purpose except to further disrupt sometimes already chaotic lives."

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive Officer of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), said: "Overall this is a very positive report that recognises the continuing improvements made by Styal since the last inspection."

He added: "The governor and his staff are committed to building on the solid improvements identified in the inspection report.

"NOMS and its partners, including the National Health Service, are committed to enhancing the provision of care for those women with mental health and behavioural issues.

"The potential for provision of updated facilities to supplement or replace the Keller unit are being reviewed by NOMS."

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