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HMP Peterborough locking up women prisoners for about 23 hours a day, inspectors reveal

WOMEN at HMP Peterborough are being locked up for about 23 hours a day with some considering suicide as a result, inspectors have revealed.

The prison, run by outsourcing giant Sodexo, holds about 300 women and female young offenders, ranging from inmates on remand to those serving life sentences.

Chief inspector of prisons Charlie Taylor found that the site had several areas of good practice, but raised concerns over the impact that coronavirus restrictions were having on inmates.

“Women repeatedly described the debilitating impact that being locked in a cell for about 23 hours every day was having and the toll it was taking on their mental health and emotional wellbeing,” Mr Taylor said.

“Some even told us they had considered suicide, although what we found was a prison that was safe, calm and well-ordered.”

Levels of self-harm had slightly increased since the prison had returned to a more restricted regime in January, but remained lower than before the pandemic hit.

Mr Taylor also warned that many women reported difficulties in ordering menstrual care products and delays in receiving them, which he said was “unacceptable and needed to be resolved as a matter of urgency.”

His report adds that inmates had repeatedly told inspectors about such problems. It states that “women should have ready access to menstrual care products, soap and hand sanitiser” — a legal requirement under a law introduced in 2019.

The report says that quality and diversity needed to be better promoted and that some women with disabilities required better support.

Howard League for Penal Reform chief executive Frances Crook said: “It is almost impossible to imagine the immense scale of mental distress to be found in a private prison where hundreds of women have been held in solitary confinement for months on end.

“This report reveals the urgent need for restrictions in Peterborough to be lifted safely and swiftly, and it underlines why the current inquiry by the all-party parliamentary group on women in the penal system, into women’s health and wellbeing in prison, is so timely and important.”

The prison’s director Damian Evans said: “We note the recommendations raised in the report and are acting on them.

“For example, we have already ensured that all women are reminded about how to access the sanitary products which are always available to them.”

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