Catherine West MP visiting HMP YOI Bronzefield
Catherine West MP visiting HMP YOI Bronzefield

Last week I visited HMP YOI Bronzefield because I wanted to learn more about the way the state treats women in prison – especially mothers with babies. I have previously raised in Parliament the case of a woman who gave birth alone there three years ago and whose baby died shortly after.

Bronzefield, near Heathrow, is run by Sodexo, one of the French corporation’s four private prisons in the UK (there are 14 private prisons in total). I met the prison’s Director (the private-sector equivalent to the Governor) and he talked candidly about the problems facing his staff and the women and babies they care for – including what went wrong in 2019 and the steps taken to ensure it couldn’t happen again.

Although six years older, Bronzefield seems to be in better condition than the other prison I’ve been to, YOI Isis, where I shadowed officers on the landings as part of the Prison Service Parliamentary Scheme. Maybe this is because of the different dynamics in male and female jails.

During my tour, I was particularly impressed by the Education Wing, which has its own prisoner-run café and beauty salon. The women I met there seemed engaged and eager to turn their lives around. The gym looked great too – though it was depressing to hear that there was nowhere for the women to run or jog.

However I found the Mother and Baby Unit utterly heartbreaking, despite what appeared to be a very well-resourced and fun play area – the kind any Haringey nursery or early-years centre would be proud of. I kept wondering, what must it be like to spend the first two years of your life growing up in prison and then be taken away from your mother?

I raised the issue of trans prisoners, especially in light of recent media reports of a trans prisoner transferred out of Bronzefield after being caught having drunken sex with another prisoner. I was told that a new Ministry of Justice policy is being developed to end the risk of this happening again, which I look forward to reading.

There was wide agreement that many of the women at Bronzefield simply should not be in prison at all. Yet this Government seems intent on locking up even more women (and men), announcing plans last year to build 500 more prison places for women.

I will continue working with my colleagues in Parliament, local authorities, trade unions and wider communities to help bring about urgently needed prison reform and other improvements to the criminal justice system. My thanks to all the friendly and committed staff at Bronzefield and to Lisa Townsend, Police & Crime Commissioner for Surrey, for facilitating this eye-opening visit.

Link to Instagram Link to Twitter Link to YouTube Link to Facebook Link to LinkedIn Link to Snapchat Close Fax Website Location Phone Email Calendar Building Search