Leeds & West Yorkshire

Women's clothes cut off in New Hall jail 'unacceptable'

New Hall Prison
Image caption The chief inspector of prisons said punishments at New Hall were "excessive"

Prison inspectors have criticised the "unnecessary and unacceptable" practice of cutting off women's clothes when they are strip-searched.

Responses to women whose behaviour caused concern were also "excessively punitive", said a report on New Hall Prison in Wakefield, West Yorkshire.

One woman from another jail who refused to hand over clothes she had previously been allowed to wear had them cut off.

A Prison Service spokesman said cutting clothes off was sometimes necessary.

Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick said the practice was unacceptable and women prisoners should only have their clothes removed "using officially approved control and restraint techniques".

"We were concerned by a small number of supposedly spontaneous incidents where accounts in paperwork indicated force had been used inappropriately."

Segregation unit

The newly arrived prisoner from Peterborough jail refused to hand over open-toed sandals and a strappy top which were allowed at Peterborough.

She was then "restrained, relocated to the segregation unit and had her clothes cut off her as she was forcibly strip-searched", Mr Hardwick said.

Describing the use of force as neither necessary nor proportionate, the Chief Inspector of Prisons said a manager's approval was not obtained and there was no attempt to resolve the issue in other ways.

Mr Hardwick added: "The special cell in the segregation unit was little-used but when it was, women were routinely placed in strip clothing and too many had their clothes cut off when forcibly searched.

"Such practices were unnecessary and unacceptable."

Some of the "most damaged women" at the 350-inmate prison were placed on the segregation unit for "good order and discipline" but efforts to address the causes of their distress and manage their behaviour constructively were inadequate, the report said.

Mr Hardwick added: "Punishments were excessive and cellular confinement was used too often."

'Urgent need'

In a statement, the Prison Service said: "These types of searches are rare and we have significantly reduced the amount of full searching of women.

"When they are undertaken it is mainly where there is an urgent need to find dangerous items such as weapons or drugs.

"If women resist violently during the search then clothing has to be removed by force.

"At times the only practical and safe way of doing this is to cut the clothing with special safety scissors. As far as possible, the decency of the individual is upheld throughout."

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