Female prison inmates subject to ‘excessive strip-searching’ despite many being victims of sexual abuse

Female prisoners are being subject to “excessive strip-searching” despite evidence that the process can risk retraumatising vulnerable women, many of whom will have experienced sexual or physical abuse.

An inspection of HMP Peterborough – the only jail in England and Wales that holds both women and men on a single site – found “very high” use of force by staff and “overuse” of strip-searching, which campaigners have described as “shameful”.

It comes just days after the Government was issued with an unprecedented warning that inmates were being driven to take their own lives due to a “dramatic decline” in conditions.

Inspectors revealed last week that conditions in one English jail were the “worst they have ever seen”, painting a grim picture of inmates in HMP Liverpool living among dirt, litter, rats and cockroaches and occupying cells that are “dangerous to live in”.

The latest report from the Inspectorate of Prisons raises further concerns about the prison state, highlighting how the “instability on the male side was affecting the prison’s ability to focus sufficiently on the relatively more settled female prison”.

It states the use of strip-searching was too high, which the Chief Inspector Peter Clarke said was “particularly disappointing” given the heavy investment in training staff about how past trauma can be reignited in the prison setting.

Use of force was also too high, at more than double the level usually see in women’s prisons, with inspectors witnessing examples where not every opportunity to de-escalate the situation had been used, the report found.

The inspectors found that over a nine-week period, 70 women were strip-searched –“far more” than the levels usually seen in a women’s prison. They said reasons for these searches were often “unclear”, with staff in reception unable to provide consistent explanations of their rationale for undertaking them.

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