Safety concerns over women’s wings at HMP Peterborough

HMP Peterborough
HMP Peterborough

Safety concerns have been raised about the women’s section at HMP Peterborough - due to instability on male wings.

The Peterborough jail for women was found to be “not sufficiently” safe for prisoners, the first time in a number of years that a women’s jail was assessed at this level, according to HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP).

Safety had been ‘reasonably good’ at the previous inspection, in 2014, but in 2017 inspectors found this key aspect of prisoners’ lives had deteriorated. While violence was relatively low, women felt intimidated by verbal bullying and antisocial behaviour. The use of force by staff was “very high” and, as in 2014, inspectors were concerned by the over-use of strip-searching.

HMP & YOI Peterborough, located in Saville Road is the only prison in England and Wales that holds both women and men on a single site, and is privately run by Sodexo.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said: “We had concerns that instability on the male side was affecting the prison’s ability to focus sufficiently on the relatively more settled female prison.”

The new report said most women only stayed for a few weeks and, on arrival, 65 per cent of women said they felt depressed and over a quarter said they felt suicidal, and two-thirds had mental health problems.

Mr Clarke said that 60 per cent of women had felt unsafe at some time since arriving and 28 per cent felt unsafe at the time of the inspection. The proportion of women who said they have been victimised by prisoners or staff was higher than in 2014 or at similar prisons. Verbal bullying and antisocial behaviour were the main reasons for these perceptions.

Use of force was far too high “at more than double what we usually see in women’s prisons; we saw examples where not every opportunity to de-escalate the situation had been used.”

The use of strip-searching was also too high, Mr Clarke said, “which was particularly disappointing given the heavy investment in training staff about how past trauma can be reignited in the prison setting.”

Overall, Mr Clarke said: “This is a more mixed report than when we last inspected this prison. We were particularly concerned about safety, and this is the first women’s prison in several years to have been assessed as ‘not sufficiently good’ in this area.

“The prison remained basically respectful, but serious deficits in health care meant that the assessment in this area was not as positive as at our previous visit.

“On the other hand, outcomes in purposeful activity had improved and resettlement remained very strong. The leadership team at Peterborough were motivated to provide good outcomes for the women, but told us they were distracted by some significant challenges in the male prison. A renewed focus on the female prison is now needed to ensure the concerns we have raised at this inspection are addressed.”