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Serious concerns about self-harm and post-release accommodation for women at Bronzefield, say independent monitors

In its annual report, the Bronzefield Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) records a significant rise in self-harm, and in the number of women released without safe and secure accommodation.

  • On average there were 220 self-harm incidents a month, compared to 91 two years ago, with 371 incidents in June 2021 alone. The Board notes that the severe regime restrictions necessary to control Covid-19 compromised the ability to treat women fairly and humanely, and that prisons are used as a ‘place of safety’ for severely mentally ill women
  • The number of sentenced prisoners released without safe and secure accommodation to go to rose to 77% in July 2021. The Board is critical of the new probation contracts, which have reduced the availability of specialist housing advice,

The Board recognised that the prison was in general a safe environment, and that the spread of Covid-19 had been controlled effectively.  They also welcomed

  • the replacement of 60 in-cell phones, which had been vital in helping prisoners maintain contact with friends, family and staff during the pandemic
  • some improvement in transfer times for severely mentally unwell women to secure hospitals
  • changes to perinatal health services following the death of the newborn baby of a prisoner in September 2019.

IMB Bronzefield Chair, Alison Keightley, said:

“An unacceptably large number of women leave Bronzefield without safe and secure housing, particularly those released into London.  This number has increased since the restructuring of probation services reduced access to in-prison specialist advice.  It exposes women to unnecessary risks, increases the chance of reoffending, and urgently needs to be addressed.

“The rise in self-harm incidents, from an already high level, and for the third year running, is also of serious concern.  Some may be connected to the regime restrictions necessary during the pandemic, but we also continue to be concerned that prisons are inappropriately used as so-called ‘places of safety’ for women with complex and severe mental health conditions.”