to receive treatment for her illness and for her reintegration into society?"' (Martin Bright The Observer August 9th 2004)
It is well-established that lack of exercise and close confinement can have deleterious effects on mental health and the most recent Section 95 publication (Home Office 2004:iv) reported that 37% of women in prison had previously attempted suicide. That being so, it is not surprising (but very shocking) that in the 21 months prior to September 2004, 25 women committed suicide in prisons in England, many of them young women on remand and with previous histories of mental disorder, and at a time when the incidence of suicide in the general population is falling.
Both staff and other inmates resent having very disturbed women in prison. Prison officers complain that they are not nurses and do not have the requisite training to look after such disturbed women. Prisoners tell horrific tales of having to share a cell with
self-abusing or violent women: At Eastwood Park [women’s prison] I shared a cell and a girl ended up slashing her wrists and I had to ring the bell to get someone to help her. She was waiting to be sectioned [compulsorily detained in a mental hospital], and I should not have been in with her. Slashed her wrists with one of them plastic knives! You could have knocked me for six. (P3)
She’d come out of mental hospital. The prison had put her on the wrong location – she should have been on the psychiatric wing. I was fast asleep in bed and she cut my face. She said it was because I had nice cheekbones! [Laughs] She rung the buzzer and 5 officers came running and she gave the razor up. They said, ‘So you admit doing Vera’s face?’ and she said, ‘Yes’ straight away and that there was no reason for it. I had eleven butterfly stitches and sixteen normal stitches. The scar will never go away. (Vera, in Carlen 1998: 106)
Poor Physical Health
A recent survey of healthcare needs of prisoners found that 60% of female [prisoners] rated their own health as fair, poor or very poor. (Marshall et al. 2000)
According to the Department of Health (2001) a health care needs assessment conducted by the Department of Public Health and Epidemiology at Birmingham University revealed that female prisoners report higher rates of asthma, epilepsy, high blood pressure, anxiety and depression, stomach complaints, period and menopausal problems, sight and hearing difficulties than females in the general population. (Home Office 2004: 38) The main complaint about health provision in prison from the prisoners we interviewed related to: delays in getting to see a doctor; not always having immediate access to night- time sanitation; too much starchy food. Foreign nationals who do not speak English have
problems with making their condition known to medics: We had one woman who could not speak English who told the nurse again and again that she was bleeding. But the nurse couldn’t understand her, and, of course, that woman had a miscarriage. (A.18)
On the other hand, several ex-prisoners said that while in prison they had been grateful to have longstanding health problems dealt with that they should have had treated prior to their imprisonment.
women’s prison consistently show, the restrictions, often reduce their self-esteem still further.
Prisons have highly institutionalised regimes and one of the biggest problems faced by prisoners on release is that the process of depriving them of their liberty has often also deprived them of any positive form of control over their lives. This