Women’s prisons in desperate need of reform, says former governor
originally by: The Observer
published: 11th February 2012
One of the country’s most experienced prison governors has condemned the use of short-term sentences that put thousands of women behind bars each year.
In a letter to the justice secretary, Ken Clarke, Clive Chatterton states that his final role as governor of Styal’s women’s prison in Cheshire left him disturbed and bewildered. Chatterton, who spent 37 years working in prisons before retiring three months ago, says that urgent reform is needed and called for the government to vigorously pursue alternatives to jail.
He said that many judges and magistrates he had spoken to “acknowledged that many of these women did not require a custodial sentence but then ask: ‘What else can we do with them?'”
Chatterton is calling for a “warts-and-all review of the aims and intent of the use of custody”; an immediate end to short sentences; more women to be transferred to secure mental health units where they can receive the right care; and alternatives to prison that could be funded by the “huge” savings that would be derived from not jailing the third of women currently imprisoned for minor offences.
“I have never come across such a concentration of damaged, fragile and complex-needs individuals,” states Chatterton in his letter. He says half of the women in his former prison should never have been sent there and giving short sentences to vulnerable women or mothers is damaging and self-defeating. He cites one woman jailed for 12 days for stealing a £3 sandwich and another who took a £12 bottle of champagne from an off licence but whose 10-day sentence was spent ill in hospital guarded by two prison officers.