FEMALE prisoners at HMP New Hall in Wakefield had their clothes cut off during strip searches.
And one prisoner was held down with force while the clothes she was allowed to wear at another prison were cut off when she arrived at the Flockton jail.
But a prison service spokesmen said cutting clothes off was sometimes necessary “using officially approved control and restraint techniques”.
The findings were made in the latest report by Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick, who said the practice was unacceptable and needed to be addressed.
He said: “We were concerned by a small number of supposedly spontaneous incidents where accounts in paperwork indicated force had been used inappropriately.”
The inspector added: “The special cell in the segregation unit was little-used but when it was, women were routinely placed in strip clothing and too many had their clothes cut off when forcibly searched. Such practices were unnecessary and unacceptable,”
The report added that some of the “most damaged women” were placed on the prison’s segregation unit for “good order and discipline” but efforts to address the causes of their distress and manage their behaviour constructively were inadequate.
It said: “Punishments were excessive and cellular confinement was used too often. In other instances, prisoners lost all privileges which amounted to cellular confinement but without the safeguards that would normally be required.”
While conditions at New Hall improved since its last inspection in 2008, the report concluded: “The treatment of a small number of women who combine the most challenging behaviour with the highest levels of need is not acceptable.”
The National Offender Management Service (NOMS) said such searches were rare while the amount of full searching of women had already been reduced and were only carried out to find dangerous items such as weapons or drugs.
A NOMS spokesperson said: “If women resist violently during the search then clothing has to be removed by force. At times the only practical and safe way of doing this is to cut the clothing with special safety scissors.
“As far as possible, the decency of the individual is upheld throughout.”
But the report praised the prison’s mother and baby unit as “an excellent facility” and said positive drug testing rates were within target.
Inmates also said they felt much safer in the prison than before, while there was little bullying or violence.
It was also found that New Hall had generally improved since its last inspection in 2008.
Michael Spurr, Chief Executive Officer of NOMS, said: “I am pleased that the Chief Inspector has noted the considerable improvements made at New Hall since the last inspection and that it provides a safe environment and good outcomes for the majority of women in its care.”