Women's prison report highlights mental health issues

Low Newton Prison

Low Newton Prison

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A County Durham prison has been criticised for the high level of inmates with mental health problems.

An independent report into HMP Low Newton, which currently houses serial killer Rosemary West, has raised concerns about the amount of prisoners with series mental health issues.

The jail's Independent Monitoring Board has released its annual report for 2014 to 2015 and concerns will be referred to prisons minister, Andrew Selous.

Members of the board said in their report into the Brasside prison, said: "There are the continuing issues regarding the number of prisoners who are detained and are suffering from mental health problems.

"Although the healthcare unit refers prisoners for assessment with a view to their transfer to hospital accommodation, the board must question whether these women should have been detained in prison in the first instance and whether prison is the correct location for these women."

They went on to say: "A significant proportion of women received at Low Newton have mental health problems.

"This is a huge issue, as is self-harm. It is not unusual for women to have to be kept under constant or frequent watch for periods for their own safety.

"The healthcare staff cope admirably for long periods with the many seriously mentally ill, and often volatile, women who pass through their care.

"As mentioned in previous years, the board believes these women should not be in prison, but should be sent for assessment directly by the courts to hospitals specialising in mental health care."

The board said although mental health assessments and provision of an appropriate placement in a secure hospital are within the time frame set by the Ministry of Justice, members still felt that earlier interventions are needed.

Despite these issues, the board praised the work of the prison, saying inmates are kept in a safe and supportive environment.

They said: "Board members regularly note that there is a good atmosphere within the establishment. It is the opinion of the board that the establishment is well managed, officers have due regard to the welfare of the prisoners and the governor and his senior staff are regularly to be seen in prisoner areas and are readily approachable.

"The board was pleased to see that the establishment received a good report at its last HMIP inspection and feels that it was fully warranted noting particularly that officers have good and professional working relationships with their charges and demonstrate genuine concern regarding their welfare."