40 Days in Mayfield Women’s Prison; Chapter 2: Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons Report into Mayfield Prison Extract 1

HMP Mayfield is a complex closed women’s prison run by Paratech Justice Services. It holds up to 587 women, including all categories – those remanded by the courts, those serving short sentences, and a number serving life sentences. Ages range from 18 to over 70.  It also holds restricted status women, or women who are deemed to require special management due to the high level of risk they represent or because of the notoriety of their offences. The catchment area of the prison is very large, and the mix of women held continues to present a blend of complexity and vulnerability. Around one third of women reported having a disability and 90 per cent said they had arrived at the prison with problems. Of the women surveyed, 48 per cent said they had felt depressed or suicidal on arrival at the prison. For about 60 per cent of women it was their first time in prison.  About 55 per cent of women had children under the age of 18. Over 40 per cent of women indicated they had a problem with drugs and 63 per cent said they had emotional wellbeing or mental health problems. The proportion of women reporting these types of problems had significantly increased since our last inspection.

It was good to see, therefore, that despite the complexity of the challenge, the prison had continued the improvement reported at the last inspection. Arrangements to support women on arrival and during their early days at the prison were good. For women with substance misuse problems, the support was equal to the best we have seen. Processes to help women to deal with the high levels of self-harm were well developed. Support for vulnerable prisoners was good.  There was little violence and few serious incidents, but despite this, many women still complained that they had felt unsafe at some time while at the prison. Other women said that they had been victimised by other prisoners or staff. The reasons for this were not clear.  The complex mix of women held at Mayfield, a recent tragic self-inflicted death (the first such death at the prison), allied to a zero-tolerance approach being adopted to tackle poor behaviour when it occurred, very likely contributed to these perceptions.

At the last inspection we were critical of some aspects of the work with a small number of women.  These were women who had a combination of very challenging and sometimes dangerous behaviours and vulnerabilities, including personality disorder and mental health conditions. Work in this area had improved significantly.  At our last inspection we had been concerned by two women who had been managed in the separation and care unit (SCU) for over two years.  We now found that the care they were receiving to manage their progression and reintegration was good and would be developed further when interventions addressing personality disorder were piloted. Safeguarding arrangements in general were well developed and fully embedded across the prison.

Security was proportionate, including for those women who were restricted status. Work in the SCU had developed since the last inspection and was now much more progressive. The use of force was not excessive. Substance misuse support was very good.

The general environment was very good and care was taken to keep the prison decent. Staff prisoner relationships were very good and the custody support officer scheme worked well. Resettlement work was effectively supported. Work to support the diverse range of women held, including the 25 per cent who were from black and minority ethnic communities and the 24 per cent who were foreign nationals, was good. The mother and baby unit provided excellent care and support, and maternity care was very good. Health services were good overall, including for the high number of women with mental health problems.

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