PORRIDGE - THE FEMALE WAY

TOP television drama Bad Girls has thrust female prisons into the limelight but life at Wakefield s New Hall is a far cry from the violence and drug abuse portrayed in the programme.

Prison bosses have used government funding to crack down on drug taking by tightening up security measures in the visiting area.

Spy cameras monitor the inmates during visits and they can zoom in on any prisoner suspected of smuggling drugs into the prison. And random drug testing and detox programmes keep prisoners on their toes.

And their efforts have paid off - the number of drug users in the prison has dropped from 12 per cent to five per cent over the last three years.

Head of operations Tony Ellis said: Bad Girls is a very entertaining television programme but it bears no resemblance to life in a real prison.

The vast majority of women in here use their time in prison to get off drugs. They want to get clean and some even ask to be remanded in custody because they are desperate to get out of the drug scene. And that can be much harder when you are on the outside.

And most inmates find it easier to do their sentence without drugs as they don t think about it all the time when they are clean.

New Hall houses a full range of prisoners from 15-year-old young offenders to those serving life sentences.

An average day starts with breakfast at 8am, followed by a morning s work. The average wage of the prisoners is about 8 a week from jobs like sewing or assembly and farm work on the 120 acre site at Flockton. Cash generally goes on cigarettes, sweets or toiletries at the prison shop.

Following tea at 5pm prisoners have free time when they can socialise and play cards or pool. Lock-up time is at 8.30pm every night, but most inmates pay a rental fee for a TV in their cell.

A mother and baby unit is housed within the prison for new mothers with babies up to a year old.

Up to 10 prison mums can live with their child in the unit in their own room with separate laundry and kitchen facilities. A creche for the tots is also provided.

Like most prisons, New Hall has been criticised in the past for receiving too much money from the government.

But Mr Ellis said: It s part of our job to help prisoners make the transition from prison to the outside world. We educate and support them when they are in prison and when they come out because it benefits everybody in society if they get a job and stay off drugs.

And we have to put a bid in for this government money every year. It s not just handed out to anybody who asks for it. We have got to show value for money.

Governor Veronica Bird, who has been in the prison service for 34 years, said: If we can provide the women with decent standards maybe they will take those new standards with them into the outside world.

Some of the girls come from such poor environments that they have lost all confidence in human nature. The treatment in here is better than some of them are used to at home, she added.

Most of the women take advantage of the educational programmes at the prison and take NVQ or GNVQ qualifications. The prison, which has a maximum capacity for 385 inmates, aims to teach basic literacy and numeracy skills plus a range of other courses in health and safety and first aid.

Open University degrees are also available and teaching co-ordinator Fiona Hill said: If the women get a qualification while they are here they have a bit of training under their belt when they are released.

We encourage them to think about what they would like to do with their lives when they come out and try to make them as employable as possible.

Treating young prisoners is very important to Mrs Bird and she said: If we address the problems of young offenders that would be a major step forward as these people are the criminals of tomorrow.

We are the Holloway of the North and our aim is to be the best female prison in the service and if people actually looked at what we achieve here they would see that will shortly be true.