THE ALL PARTY PARLIAMENTARY GROUP ON WOMEN IN THE PENAL SYSTEM (APPG) has responded to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons’ report on Wetherby prison, published on Wednesday 16 March.

Wetherby is a prison that usually holds boys aged 15 to 18. When inspectors visited in December 2021, there were about 140 boys – but also three girls, who had been moved to the prison at short notice following the closure of places elsewhere. The girls were housed in the prison’s Napier Unit.

The placement of girls in prisons has been opposed by the APPG for more than a decade, in line with the recommendations of the Corston Report, a wide-ranging 2007 review commissioned by the Home Office, which looked into the treatment of women and girls in the criminal justice system.

In a briefing published in 2012, the APPG stated that units for girls in adult prisons should be closed as they were not appropriate places for them. The last three units in adult prisons were decommissioned in 2013.

Jackie Doyle-Price and Debbie Abrahams, Co-Chairs of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Women in the Penal System, said: “It has been known for many years that girls should not be in prison, so it is unacceptable that three have been placed in Wetherby because of failure at a national level to plan effectively.

“Ministers must look again at this situation and come up with a sustainable long-term solution that ensures girls get the care and support they need.”

Inspectors found that the care that the girls received from staff at Wetherby was good, although they received less time out of their cells than boys – about five-and-a-quarter hours per day on weekdays.

Records showed that girls had self-harmed 14 times in the past six months – a higher rate than seen among boys – and use of force against girls was high. There had been 12 instances of use of force against girls during their short time in the prison, including seven against one girl in particular.

The inspection, carried out by HM Inspectorate of Prisons in December 2021, also found that outcomes had deteriorated in all healthy prison tests in Wetherby’s Keppel unit, holding some of the most vulnerable children in the young people’s estate. Referring to the Keppel Unit, Charlie Taylor, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said: “Inspectors saw a disappointing fall in standards. At the time of the inspection it felt more like another wing of the main prison rather than provision for a vulnerable group of children with a range of complex needs”.

* Read the inspection report on HMYOI Wetherby and Keppel here.

* Sources: Howard League for Penal Reform and HM Inspector of Prisons