Suicides in women's prisons / Suicide 'epidemic' hits women's jails
These stories are being told overseas... not in Amerikkka.
***Mum's crusade to save women behind bars***
Sarah Campbell was just 18 when she killed herself. Now her mother risks
jail herself in a fight against 'barbaric' women's prisons
Amelia Hill The Observer Sunday May 30, 2004
Sarah Campbell was a talented child from a conservative household in an
unremarkable town in Cheshire. Her mother, Pauline, was a civil servant and
lecturer who carefully raised her only child to have a happy, fulfilling
The evidence of Sarah's promising future is on display around her
mother's living room: her tennis trophies, her art works, the purple belt
she won in karate and the family photo albums that chart a childhood of
skiing trips, birthday parties and school plays.
But Sarah is dead: somewhere along the line, in spite of her mother's>ceaseless support, the bright, lively child became a heroin abuser.
As a result of her addiction, Sarah was sentenced on 17 January, 2003, to
three years' in jail and sent to Styal women's prison in Cheshire. Within
hours of the start of her sentence, she had taken an overdose. She died
three days before her 19th birthday.
'Sarah had a future once and so did I, as her mother and as an average,
normal member of society,' said Campbell. 'But my life is dedicated now to
finding out how an 18-year-old girl with a known history of depression and
drug dependency came to injure herself fatally within hours of being
received into Her Majesty's care.'
But Campbell's battle is no longer just about her daughter: the once
timid, law-abiding lecturer has organised six protests outside women's
prisons, been arrested three times and is now prepared to go to jail herself.
'If someone had told me five years ago that I would become this angry,
vociferous risk-taker, I would have told them they had the wrong woman,'
she said. 'But Sarah's death has transformed me. Sarah's death has opened
my eyes to the fact that women are treated with medieval barbarity by our
prison system,' she said. 'More and more women are being sent to prison
when clearly they should be being treated for mental illness - and
conditions once they reach jail are horrific.
'I have seen women who have used scouring pads and hairgrips to maim
themselves. I have spoken to women who tried to choke themselves to death
on toilet tissue and of others who garrotted themselves with rippedsheets.'
Campbell paused, then added: 'I have seen my daughter do these things to
herself when she was on remand. That is not something a mother can ever
Britain locks up more women than any other EU country except Spain and
Portugal, and the numbers are growing, with the female prison population in
England and Wales rising by 173 per cent in the last 10 years to more than
Between 1990 and 1995, seven women inmates killed themselves, an average
of 1.2 a year. In 2002 that figure rose to nine, and last year it was 14.
Women prisoners are three times more likely to commit suicide than their
male counterparts. Despite being only 6 per cent of the prison population,
women account for half of all incidents of self-harm.
Last Thursday Campbell was arrested outside Holloway prison during a
protest following the death of 28-year-old Heather Wait, the second woman
to die in Holloway in recent weeks.
'I am going to continue protesting outside every women's prison, every time
a female inmate dies, until the government is forced to take action,' said
Campbell. 'Women in prison are an invisible issue. Many suffer terribly;
the regimes are more restrictive than in men's prisons and staff are not
trained to cope with such damaged people.'
After her arrest on Thursday night, Pauline spent more than four hours in
a police cell. She has been summoned to appear before a magistrate this
week and has already decided that, if she is fined, she will refuse to pay.
If that means she is put in prison, so be it: she will continue the fight
from inside the lion's den, although the idea fills her with horror.
'I thought of Sarah every second of the time I was sitting in that
filthy, rank cell,' she said, her eyes filling with tears. 'I am a strong
woman with a powerful sense of my own rights, but if even I felt completely
desperate, what must it be like for scared, vulnerable girls who have no
idea of what is happening to them?
'Prison is hell for male inmates too, but, unlike males, most female
prisoners have not committed violent crimes,' she added. 'Their offences
are mostly linked to theft, drugs or unpaid bills and they are less
equipped to deal with being separated from their children. Nearly all will
try to harm themselves and many will succeed.'
Sarah's own story is a miserable one. As a teenager, she had suffered
from low self-esteem and at 15 her doctor prescribed anti-depressants. At
16, she started an art course, began to smoke cannabis and was later
introduced to heroin.
'I noticed that she was becoming more moody and more withdrawn than>usual, but I put it down to adolescence at first,' said Campbell. By the
end of the first term, Sarah had dropped out of college and moved to
One day, desperate for a fix, Sarah and a friend hassled an elderly man in Chester town centre for money. Petrified, the 72-year-old man suffered a
heart attack and died. In court, Sarah and her friend were found guilty of
manslaughter, the first time a manslaughter conviction had been based on a
harassment charge rather than something more serious, such as robbery.
After the begging incident, Sarah was sent to prison on remand for six
months, a period during which she was drug-free - to her delight. When she
returned to court and was sentenced to three years' imprisonment, she was told that she would be sent to a secure psychiatric hospital.
When she discovered she was going back to Styal, she was distraught. At
court, a liaison probation officer and a duty psychiatric nurse warned that
she may harm herself. The last thing she said to her mother was: 'Mum, why
aren't they taking me to a hospital?'
Until Sarah's inquest next year, Pauline can only guess at what happened
after that. The only thing she knows for sure is that Sarah somehow managed
to obtain or smuggle over 100 pills into Styal, and that at 7.56 that
evening she was pronounced dead.
***Suicide 'epidemic' hits women's jails***
Campaigners brand record level of female suicides in custody as 'desperate,
depressing and shameful'
>By Sophie Goodchild, The Independent Sunday 30 May 2004
> An unprecedented number of female prisoners have killed themselves over
>the last two months, prompting fears of a suicide "epidemic" in women's
>New Prison Service figures reveal that a total of six female inmates have
>taken their lives since 1 April. That compares to a total of 14 prisoners
>who killed themselves throughout the whole of last year - itself a record
>for women suicides in jails.
>Inquest, which campaigns against deaths in custody, said the high number of
>female prisoner deaths was "desperate, depressing and shameful".
>The figures also highlight the crisis facing prison officials over how to
>improve conditions for female prisoners, many of whom have suffered
>They also come two weeks before the publication of a new report into Styal
>women's prison in Cheshire, which was criticised by the prisons ombudsman
>earlier this year for its inadequate mental health provision.
>Anne Owers, the chief inspector of prisons, is expected to focus on
>conditions in Styal's induction wing - where five women took their lives
>last year - in an inspection report which will be published on 14 June.
>Suicides by female prisoners have risen by more than 100 per cent over the
>past decade. This has partly been blamed on the rise in the female prison
>population - from just under 2,000 in 1994 to a current figure of more than
>Research carried out by the Howard League for Penal Reform published
>earlier this year showed that the majority of these women were under 25,
>prime carers of young children and convicted of non-violent offences. More
>than 90 per cent of female inmates have a personality disorder and there
>were more than 21,000 incidents of self-harm last year.
>Women make up only 5 per cent of the prison population but account for more
>than 15 per cent of suicides and 45 per cent of the incidents of self-harm.
>Prison reform groups partly blame the deaths on the fact male prisoners
>take priority over women, with female inmates moved to make room for men in
>a practice known as "rerolling". This often means women end up far from
>family, leaving them vulnerable and isolated.
>Drug addiction is another major issue. The Prison Service has introduced
>methadone prescription in some prisons, including Styal, and there have
>been no deaths there since the scheme was introduced. But reformers say far
>more needs to be done.
>Inquest is lobbying the Home Office to make public an official report by
>Stephen Shaw - the prisons ombudsman, who investigates deaths in custody -
>into deaths of women prisoners. It is understood that Mr Shaw's office is
>concerned about the number of deaths since April.
>"The real problem is with women being moved around the country at short
>notice," said Deborah Coles, the head of Inquest. "Women are being sent to
>prison on short sentences of seven days and that is clogging up the
>Pauline Campbell has been campaigning for better conditions in women's
>prisons since her 18-year-old daughter, Sarah, killed herself at Styal in
>January last year. Last week, she was charged by police after demonstrating
>outside the prison.
>However, Mrs Campbell told this paper that she will carry on with her
>"All I'm doing is drawing attention to a serious national problem, and they
>are trying to stop me," she said.
>'Anyone could see she was vulnerable'
>There was no one to watch over Sheena Kotecha when she killed herself in
>her prison cell last month - despite the fact psychiatrists had described
>the 22-year-old as "depressed", "at risk of self-harm" and "vulnerable".
>In letters to her parents, Ms Kotecha had told them she was desperate to
>end her life because of bullying by inmates at Brockhill Prison in
>An official investigation is now being carried out and there will also be
>an inquest. But her parents say nothing will compensate for their
>"The night she died, Sheena called us to say 'I love you' and we tried to
>reassure her," says her mother Nalini, who lives in Leicester. "They could
>see she was a vulnerable prisoner."
>The same week Ms Kotecha hanged herself, three other women took their lives
>in English jails. She died alone in her cell on 2 April, hours after
>collapsing in court after receiving a nine-year sentence for her role as
>getaway driver in an armed robbery. Ms Kotecha, who had no criminal record,
>always maintained her innocence, claiming that she had simply given
>defendant Daniel Wright a lift.
>Her body was not found until the day after she died. Unaware of the
>tragedy, her parents tried to arrange a visit, only to be told the prison
>would call them back. They waited all day but it was not until 7pm that
>evening that two police officers broke the news of her death.
>9 women have died through self harm in UK prisons since January this year.
> Heather Waite, HMP Hollowy
>Sharon Miller, HMP Durham
>Louise Davies, HMP New Hall
>Sheena Kotecha, HMP Brockhill
>Julie Hope, HMP Holloway
>Bromley,Tina, HMP Edmunds Hill
>April Sherman, HMP Edmunds Hill
>Roseanne Irvine, HMP Maghaberry
>Page Tapp, HMP Send
> Women who died through self-harm in UK prisons in 2003
> Jessica Adam, hanged, New Hall
> Petra Blanksby, hanged, New Hall
> Wendy Booth, hanged, Durham
> Jayne Buck, hanged, Durham
> Sarah Campbell, overdose, Styal
> Jennifer Clifford, hanged, Bullwood Hall
> Leanne Gidney, hanged, Brockhill
> Emma Levey, hanged, Downview
> Clare Parsons, hanged, Eastwood Park
> Helena Price, hanged, New Hall
> Sue Stevens, hanged, New Hall
> Julie Walsh, overdose, Styal
> Hayley Williams, hanged, Styal
> Jolene Willis, hanged, Styal
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