Around 24 per cent of prisoners are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. They were positive about equality and raised similar concerns to white prisoners. Women from black and minority ethnic backgrounds participated in forums and received good, individual support. The equalities officer saw gypsy, Roma and traveller women individually. These women had access to the Travellers in Prison news sheet and the prison had useful links to the Travellers Equality Project. In our survey 7 per cent of prisoners identified as being from these groups compared with 0.5 per cent identified by the prison.
Foreign nationals comprise 18 per cent of the population. When we visited 9 women were subject to detention under immigration rules. The foreign national support worker assisted these women efficiently. Women had access on a weekly basis to visiting immigration officers and to groups offering legal advice and support. Prison staff were aware of the situation of foreign national women. Interpretation arrangements were very good and frequently used. Foreign national women received only one free seven-minute phone call each month. For some this made it more difficult to maintain contact with family abroad as the cost of making calls was prohibitive. We recommend that foreign national women should receive regular free telephone calls that are long enough for them to be able to maintain good contact with their children and their carers.
About 29 percent of women were aged 25 or younger and around 10 percent were 50 or older. The extensive array of social opportunities throughout the age range was impressive. Over 20 activities were available for women of all ages. Age specific activities included: participation in the Duke of Edinburgh Award; young offender family days; football and basketball for younger women; poetry reading leisure group activities for older women. In the previous September a theatre company had presented a play exploring child sexual exploitation, grooming and trafficking, that addressed the needs of several young women in an imaginative way.
In our survey 22% of women identified as gay or bisexual. Survey responses from this group to questions about respect were more negative than those from other groups. But we find no evidence to support these perceptions. There were clear guidelines on decency and managing relationships and we concluded the prison’s approach to be appropriate. We found this group received good individual support. Transgender women felt supported and a designated prison officer provided sensitive support to women with gender and transgender issues. Community support for lesbian, bisexual or transgender prisoners who had experienced abuse was promoted. Information about the mother and baby unit (MBU) was provided on arrival. Pregnant women we spoke with were satisfied with their support and antenatal care was equivalent to what was available in the community.
The MBU provided suitable accommodation and facilities that were better than at our previous inspection. Mothers and babies were offered a safe and nurturing environment. Seven mothers and babies were resident during the inspection. Specific improvements we now observed were that women could now cook for their children and mothers could keep albums or photos of their babies.
The admissions board was appropriately constituted. It made decisions about admissions to the unit efficiently but sensitively. Fortnightly boards reviewed the care plans and progress of all mothers and babies.
Families could visit mothers and babies in the MBU, which the mothers appreciated. Arrangements for children to leave their mothers at the required age were sensitive and mothers were consulted in advance. The Mayfield nursery was excellent. Nursery staff acted as key workers and took children to activities in the community, enabling women to go to work.
Relationships in the unit were relaxed and caring. Mothers we spoke to felt well supported and appreciated the service. The regime had been relaxed so that women were not subject to unnecessary security restrictions. Staff members were trained in paediatric first aid and infant resuscitation. Male staff were still occasionally deployed in the MBU overnight.