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Jail unit criticised for holding mentally ill inmates

Concern over prisoners harming themselves

Gulf News

London: A jail unit designed to hold disruptive inmates has been criticised for holding mentally ill prisoners, following incidents of self-harm.

The close supervision centre (CSC) at Woodhill prison in Milton Keynes was one of three units set up by the Labour government in 1998 to hold the most dangerous and disruptive inmates, but not those with mental health issues. Yet the unit's operational manager has confirmed in a letter seen by the Guardian that incidence of self-harm is high and it is holding prisoners who have mental health problems.

In the letter, Claire Hodson says that the "presence of a mental disorder or personality disorder is not uncommon within this population". She adds that the CSC regime is an "essential part of the prison system" for managing those prisoners who are considered a high risk to others.

But the regime at the unit has been criticised by a former chief inspector of the prison service and a mental health charity who argue mentally ill prisoners must be placed in secure hospitals.

In July this year, Woodhill's CSC was criticised after an inmate, Lee Foye, sliced off a ear with a razor blade, three months after cutting off his other ear at the unit in April. The July incident occurred while the prison governor was holding an inquiry into the April incident, when Foye, who had previously self-harmed, was allowed into a shower room with a razor blade.

Earlier this month, a judge at Hull crown court sentencing Damien Fowkes for attempting to kill Ian Huntley in Frankland prison, Durham, and for the manslaughter of child killer Colin Hatch at Full Sutton prison near York, expressed concern at the number of attacks at high-security prisons.

Safety fears

A prison source claims more prisoners are to be transferred to the unit at Woodhill, but that staffing levels are not being increased in line with the rise in population, prompting fears about safety. Prisoners in the unit who have contacted the Guardian through their relatives describe the regime as "highly punitive", with inmates subjected to controlled unlocking, meaning at least five prison officers, all in riot gear, supervise them when they are out of their cells. In some cases, the prisoners are handcuffed during the process.

— Guardian News & Media Ltd