HMP Eastwood park is a closed category woman’s prison, located in Falfield, South Gloucestershire, which houses just under 400 women.
The site was originally opened as a male juvenile Detention Centre, before becoming a Young Offenders Institution. In March 1996, the site was converted into the woman’s prison we know it as today. Staff and prisoners were transferred from the old Pucklechurch Prison.
The prison itself has had quite a colourful history…
September 1998 – A report was issued showing that several residents were living in cells that were below the nationally recommended standard size.
May 2002 – Further inspection found that residents were at serious risk of suicide and self-harm. In a single month, 56 women had been classed as suicide risk, in that same month 47 seperate cases of self-harm had occurred. The prison was referred to as “an establishment in crisis”. The prison was struggling to provide living conditions which were up to standard.
March 2004 – It was reported that the prison was still facing major challenges, HOWEVER it was also stated that women felt safer at Eastwood Park than at women’s prisons generally.
December 2014 – An announcement was made stating that prisoners would be able to smoke e-cigarettes, a step towards a jail smoking ban. E-cigarette brand ‘Bull’ was now available to buy in the prison shop.
May 2016 – Jessica Whitechurch killed herself at Eastwood Park. Whitechurch was being bullied by other prisoners who were goading her to take her own life. Officers failed to prevent the bullying. On 18th May, Whitechurch was found, distressed with a ligature around her neck. Whitechurch was then put under observation, which was insufficient, and hours later Whitechurch was found unconscious with a ligature around her neck, she died later in hospital. An investigation after her death showed that there were failings on an organizational level at the prison.
Life at Eastwood prison today.
The education available at Eastwood Park is at the heart of the work carried out within the prison. The majority of residents pass through the department to improve their skills, and the quality of teaching, learning and assessment enhances the college experience for the women who take part in the courses.
A variety of academic and vocational courses are available at Eastwood Park, all are awarded by a respected, recognised body, and all of the education available is chosen with the aim to reform and reduce the levels of reoffending, as well as increase employability.
Eastwood Park aims to give women the skills to lead a purposeful, positive life after release.
Since 2016 assessments of safety, respect, and purposeful activity have maintained a level of ‘reasonably good’, yet maintaining the mental wellbeing of residents seems to be an ongoing uphill battle.
The prison has a huge catchment area, including much of Wales. 50 percent of the prisoners are over 50 miles from home, and over one third of all prisoners never received any visits. This coupled with the fact that the population of women within the prison had a huge variety of complex needs, means that maintaining the levels of wellbeing throughout the prison is a challenge.
In August 2019 a 28 point Action Plan was submitted in response to the most recent inspection. Every point within the plan has been agreed with by the prison, including addressing points regarding substance misuse within the prison. The plan to improve living conditions has been approved dependant on funding.
The prison aims to improve the mental wellbeing of residents, and continue offering the education which has been wonderfully received.