An inspection has found that private contractors exposed women prisoners at HMP Holloway to “intimidation and abuse” by transporting them to prison with male inmates.
HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) found women at the biggest women’s prison in Europe being transferred in vehicles with men without a privacy screen. The Prison Reform Trust criticised the arrangements and commented that the transport of livestock was better regulated.
However, a Prison Service spokesman justified the current method of transportation saying that potential risks were carefully managed. Joint venture Serco Wincanton, which has 200 secure vehicles, transfers prisons inmates between prisons, police stations and courts in London including The Royal Courts of Justice and the Old Bailey.
The male prisoners were dropped off first, leaving the female inmates in the “grubby” vehicle because reception areas in mens’ prisons have a fixed cut-off time, unlike the female prisons.
In his report, Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick, said:
“Women spent long periods in escort vehicles shared with men before arriving at the prison.
“Some vehicles did not have privacy screening, exposing women to the possibility of intimidation and abuse.”
Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, commented:
“In London and elsewhere, women are regularly dropped off last after long, grueling journeys from prison to prison because prison escorts know that staff in women’s prisons will stay late to receive vulnerable women entering custody.”
“Overall, transport of livestock is better regulated than transportation of prisoners.
“It’s time to call a halt to transporting women, many of whom have been victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence, with men in prison vans.”
The Prison Service sought to justify the situation, with a spokesman saying:
“Women and men are normally transported separately, but for operational reasons it is sometimes necessary for them to travel together.
“In exceptional circumstances, when they are transported in vehicles without partitions, cases are individually considered and any potential risks are carefully managed.”
A Government-wide review of all contracts held by Serco, one of the country’s biggest private providers of public services, is being conducted.