The inhumane way UK police are letting down female prisoners

Posted by
Susan Devaney
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An independent watchdog is urging the Home Secretary to improve guidelines for female detainees after finding sanitary products were not readily available in prisons.

Female prisoners are being left without sufficient sanitary protection by police in England and Wales, campaigners have warned.

The Independent Custody Visiting Association (ICVA) is urging the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, and Justine Greening, Minister for Women and Equalities, in a written letter to introduce new guidelines for police to better assist women when menstruating in prison.

After inspections of various police stations, the ICVA found female detainees were without adequate sanitary products and “routinely ignored”, the letter alleges, which could be a breach of human rights and equality laws.

“Women are frequently left without the assistance of female officers, without access to adequate and hygienic sanitary protection, or facilities for washing and changing,” the letter reads.

“Inadequate consideration is given to menstruation by officers in the exercise of detainees’ risk management. At its most stark, this can mean women left in paper suits without their underwear and without sanitary protection.”

Accompanied with the letter, a legal opinion by Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Angela Patrick of Doughty Street Chambers argues that the current conditions could be a breach of article 8 of the European convention on human rights.

“Forces must be given clear guidance and adequate support to ensure that the rights of women and girls in custody are met both on paper and in practice,” said Martyn Underhill, the Dorset police and crime commissioner and chair of the ICVA.

Many female prisoners are unable to speak to a female police officer, the report also found.

“Dignity in the cells must mean dignity for all. No woman or girl should be left bleeding in a cell in indignity simply for want of a difficult conversation or an inexpensive box of tampons,” said Katie Kempen, the chief executive of the ICVA.

The ICVA is funded by the Home Office and police and crime commissioners (PCC). It operates by using volunteers to conduct unannounced visits to police suites.

In 2015, around 150,000 women were arrested. 

“No woman or girl should be left in indignity by police officers for want of a difficult conversation or an inexpensive box of tampons,” the letter reads.

The letter has also been sent to David Isaac, chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Images: iStock