Woodhill regime blasted as ‘dehumanising’

Woodhill Prison
Woodhill Prison

BOSSES at Woodhill Prison have been criticised for holding inmates with mental health problems in the jail’s close supervision centre.

Blogger John Bowden said inmates are regularly self-harming as a result of the prison’s ‘de-humanising’ regime and should be moved to a more suitable mental health facility.

He was writing in response to a letter from Woodhill CSC’s operational manager Claire Hodson, in which she admitted that mentally ill patients are held in the unit.

The centre, which was set up to hold Britain’s most dangerous and disruptive prisoners, has been the subject of controversy since it was formed in 1998 and dubbed ‘Britain’s own Alcatraz’.

In July this year inmate Lee Foye sliced off his ear with a razor blade, three months after cutting off his other ear.

In her letter, written on August 15, Ms Hodson wrote: ‘Prisoners referred to the CSC system are referred due to their involvement, or alleged involvement, in single serious acts of violence.”

She added: ‘Such prisoners often present with highly complex needs which can include the presence of a mental order, the use of self-harm either as a coping mechanism or as a maladaptive coping strategy, as well as diagnosis of one of more personality disorders.

‘Thus it is not unexpected that some individuals will present with high levels of self harming behaviours.’

Ms Hodson added that she is unable to confirm how many CSC prisoners had been diagnosed with mental illness due to confidentiality issues, but admitted ‘the presence of a mental disorder or personality disorder is not uncommon.’

Her letter echoes the Ministry of Justice’s close supervision centre referral manual which states that prisoners should be relocated to CSCs, ‘to provide opportunities for prisoners to address their psychological needs’ and ‘to provide opportunities to address mental health needs’.

It was written in response to a previous missive by Mr Bowden, a current prisoner at HMP Shotts and a staunch critic of the CSC system.

Blogging on October 16 in reply to Ms Hodson, he wrote: ‘It was never openly said that within this group of control-problem prisoners earmarked for the CSC would be included prisoners suffering with mental illness.’

And in a separate post on the Leeds Anarchist Black Cross website, which aims to help prisoners fight back against the prison regime, he said: ‘The fundamental experience of the prisoners held there is one of complete social isolation, sensory deprivation and total powerlessness...

‘...All prisoners with a diagnosable mental illness currently held within the CSC should be transferred to a more appropriate mental health facility.’

The unit, opened on February 3, 1998, with director-general of the prison service, Richard Tilt, calling it a ‘therapeutic not punitive’ centre.

But in 2000 a Prisons’ Inspectorate report said prisoners were being deprived of mental stimulation and human contact.

It concluded that, ‘prisoners were chronically socially isolated and under-stimulated’.

And in 2006, following the suicide of 10 inmates in the previous three years in Woodhill, watchdog The Chief Inspector of Prisons made 166 recommendations for improvement across the whole prison and criticised its anti-bullying strategy.

In December 2009 the Citizen revealed how notorious Woodhill inmate Charles Bronson was planning to take the prison governor to Milton Keynes County Court claiming he violated his human rights.

Speaking at the time, Bronson said: “My cell was a disgrace. I had a dirty cell, disgusting toilet and no access to cleaning facilities. I lost my TV, my art materials and I had basic food and no wooden furniture.”

Convicted murderer Foye, 27, provoked an internal inquiry when he cut off his own ear.

But just three months later he was allowed into a shower room where he sliced the other ear off with a razor blade.

Lord Ramsbotham, a former chief inspector of prisons who raised questions in the Lords after the Foye incident, said the regime in CSCs had always concerned him.

Ramsbotham said: “If you are holding people suffering mental health problems, then they should be held in conditions similar to those in secure mental health hospitals. This is clearly not the case at Woodhill.”