HMP Bronzefield: An architecture built of women’s pain, grief, corpses. Shut it down!

HMP Bronzefield, in Surrey, England, is England’s and Europe’s largest women’s prison. It is run by Sodexo “Justice Services” (because irony is dead). On September 27, an 18-year-old woman, now known as Ms A, alone in her cell, gave birth to a child. The child, now known as Baby A, died. The Director said, “We are supporting the mother through this distressing time and our thoughts are with her, her family and our staff involved.” Sodexo claimed it was “undertaking a review”. At first, the Prisons & Probation Ombudsman, supposedly the agency that investigates deaths in prisons and detention centers, did not conduct an investigation. Surrey Police investigated the death, because it was “unexplained.” End of story. HMP Bronzefield, In Surrey, England, was then and is today England’s and Europe’s largest women’s prison. Last week, two years later, the Prisons & Probation Ombudsman finally issued a report, which demonstrated that absolutely nothing has been learned.

The report begins with the Ombudsman’s “vision”, “To carry out independent investigations to make custody and community supervision safer and fairer.” Anyone who knows anything at all about HMP Bronzefield’s abysmal record can only read that statement and weep. Though filled with alarming details, the most alarming aspect of the “investigation” is that the situation at HMP Bronzefield has been known since its opening in 2004. For example, remember Petruta-Cristina Bosoanca?  In 2017, Petruta-Cristina Bosoanca was pregnant and a prisoner in HMP Bronzefield. Petruta-Cristina Bosoanca gave birth alone, unattended, in her cell. Her child survived. What happened to care provision in the four years since Petruta-Cristina Bosoanca gave birth? Absolutely nothing. In 2010, the Chief Inspector of Prisons found that HMP Bronzefield was a nightmare, especially for women with “complex needs”, meaning women living with drug or alcohol addiction, PTSD, and a long list of other mental and physical health issues. There was no treatment, there was no attempt at treatment, there was only solitary confinement, for years on end. When the Chief Inspector returned to HMP Bronzefield in 2013, he noted, “We were dismayed that the woman who had already been in the segregation unit for three years in 2010 was still there in 2013.” We were dismayed. The nation claimed to be dismayed … for a nanosecond, and then went back to the business of inflicting pain on women and piling up the bodies of women and children, all victims of State-sponsored torture.

The latest report notes that “Ms A did not receive the routine bereavement and practical support that would normally be provided to a bereaved mother by the child death review nurse for Surrey.” Ms A did not receive counseling, but the staff did. The staff explained that the only thing amiss with Ms A was that she had a “bad attitude”. Not that she was 18 years old, incarcerated for the first time while awaiting trial, not vulnerable, not frightened. Just a “bad attitude”. The staff, however, needed and received counseling.

The State response to this ongoing crisis of incarcerated pregnant women has been to suggest it must build more and bigger women’s prisons. HMP Bronzefield is the largest women’s prison in the United Kingdom and in Europe. It is a building made of pain and grief. There was no `failure’ of care at HMP Bronzefield, and there never has been. There was refusal of care, refusal to care. We are dismayed. Do not build more, do not investigate more, do not imprison more. Shut it down.


(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: SurreyLive)