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Prison Officer Training: Women’s Mental Health

Volume 663: debated on Thursday 11 July 2019

5. What recent discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on trends in the level of training for prison officers working with women with mental health needs. (911875)

From April of this year, a new specialist training package known as Positive Outcomes for Women: Empowerment and Rehabilitation has been devised to support prison officers working with women in custody and the community. That will help staff to have the necessary skills and knowledge to deal with those with specific needs.

Given that women in prison account for a disproportionate amount of self-harm incidents, it is increasingly important that they are given support in prison. When will the Minister commit to enhancing support for vulnerable women with a mental health need in prison?

The hon. Lady will have heard what I just said about the new training programme, but it is part of a wider policy framework. In particular, there is work on the Lord Farmer review to improve family ties for female offenders and a further investment of £5 million for community provision. My experience last week at Her Majesty’s Prison Eastwood Park taught me a lot about how women can help each other and support each other through the process, which can often be a very traumatic time for them.

This year’s inspection of HMP Foston Hall identified that 74% of women had mental health problems, but only two thirds were receiving any help. At the same prison, only half of officers had received any mental health awareness training despite a general feeling that they would like more. What more can be done to improve mental health training across the estate to reduce self-harm and suicide and to improve on the current position?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that important point. As I have said, the roll out of the new POWER scheme is going to be very important in terms of giving prison officers the tools they need to help support women with mental health needs. I do think that our overall strategy is now translating into real change, with the key worker scheme allowing prison officers to work with individual prisoners to identify their needs, so there is progress, but I accept that much more needs to be done.