Posted on: 23 September 2021

CNWL gave written evidence to the Justice Select Committee on mental health in prison. Dr Catherine Durkin was then asked to give evidence in Parliament on 14 September.

Dr Durkin, a Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist was joined by Dr Amanda Brown, a GP employed by Sodexo at HMP Bronzefield and Jenny Talbot, the Independent Chair of the National Women’s Prisons Health and Social Care Review.

These are Dr Durkin’s thoughts on facing MPs about women in prison.   

“I was very keen to attend to try and put across the significant needs of the women I have worked with across the three female prisons in the Health & Justice Directorate.  It's a subject I feel very strongly about having worked with women in prison for over three years and seeing the stark contrast in their mental health needs as compared to the more general psychiatric population.

“I was very, very nervous about attending parliament and speaking on this subject to the panel, but equally excited to attend the House of Commons and felt very privileged to get such an opportunity. 

“The committee were very welcoming, and I was able to meet the other representative, Dr Brown prior to the hearing, to manage our nerves and also discuss our joint experience of looking after this highly disadvantaged group.

“It was clear from the evidence that all of us on the panel shared similar views; that this is a highly vulnerable group of women who have multiple, complex health needs and who in the majority of cases are not well served being in prison because they are separated from their families and support networks. 

“Trying to represent these needs to those who don't have experience of prisons or work with this population is difficult.

“I felt that there was far more I could have said to try and inform the panel of the levels of trauma which we hear about on a daily basis.

“However, there has to be a balance between providing an overall impression of the difficulties alongside anecdotal evidence.

“It is also hard to convey a balance between some of the exceptional work that I see in prisons by custodial staff alongside the systemic challenges of custody, not least the inappropriate environment and the barriers to accessing the women. 

“Ideally, it should have been the voices of the women in custody which should have been heard at this panel, as it is their lived experience which should hold the most weight in influencing change. However, I'm really glad that I was a small part of trying to raise awareness of their difficulties and to help change a custodial system which is not equipped to serve the needs of the women it houses.”