‘It’s St Trinian’s on crack’: meet the woman in charge of Britain’s ‘wokest’ prison

'I’m not here to punish, I’m here to help improve individuals,' says Andrea Black, star of Channel 4's documentary series, Prison

Andrea Black, who runs HMP Foston Hall in Derbyshire, which one prisoner describes as ’like one big girl’s school'
Andrea Black, who runs HMP Foston Hall in Derbyshire, which one prisoner describes as ’like one big girl’s school'

Chickens pick through damp grass and a donkey hee-haws, as rabbits gnaw at the wires penning them in. Andrea Black is giving me a tour of the grounds of , a former stately home in Derbyshire that served as a hunting estate for the Broadhurst family, which is now a closed prison for over 300 women convicted of anything from shoplifting to murder. 

2020欧洲杯足球即时比分“The punishment is taking away their liberty,” says Black, governor of the prison, as she opens a wooden farm gate leading to the ‘Animal Sanctuary’. “I’m not here to punish, I’m here to help improve individuals so when they leave us they can go on to different things.” 

2020欧洲杯足球即时比分HMP Foston Hall is the focus of the second series of Channel 4's . Compared to male prison HMP Durham, profiled in the first series, which was plagued with violence, organised crime and the ‘zombie’ drug spice, HMP Foston Hall has sprawling grounds and a collegiate feel.  

“It’s like one big girl’s school; St Trinian’s on crack,” says a returning prisoner in the programme.  

The Foston Hall building has a duck pond outside

2020欧洲杯足球即时比分When we meet, it is Black’s first week back at HMP Foston Hall after four months' sick leave due to breast cancer. As we walk, she rattles a weighty chain of keys, kept in a leather pouch on her belt, and prisoners and staff stop to greet her – “Nice to have you back, governor”. 

“Technically I’m not supposed to be back yet,” she admits, “but it was driving me mad being at home. Before my surgery, work took my mind off the Big C. Now I’m on the road to recovery.”  

2020欧洲杯足球即时比分From a council estate in Salford, a varied career brought Black into the prison service, including work as a nurse, secondary school teacher, health psychologist, and criminologist. 

“Teaching in inner-city Manchester was an eye-opener,” she says. A poignant early confrontation of the criminal justice system came when a young boy Black taught fell through a shop window during a brawl. The boy went to court alone, wearing a hoodie and without his parents.

2020欧洲杯足球即时比分Black remembers him being treated “almost as a juvenile delinquent”. “[If he had grown up] on the stock market belt, it might have been seen as a ‘bit of a party, an accident’,” she says. “I used to want to champion people like him. Quite often, I advocated for pupils [like him] in court.” 

She continues to be driven by a desire to help those who have been left behind by society. There are fewer than 4,000 female prisoners in England and Wales, compared with over 81,000 incarcerated men. “Because there are so few in custody in the women's estate, they can be easily forgotten [on the outside],” says Black. “But they're not forgotten, because we're very much supporting them.”

Problems that are rife in men’s prisons, such as drug abuse, organised crime, violence and extremism, exist on a much smaller scale in women’s prisons2020欧洲杯足球即时比分, making them easier to manage. “In women's prisons, we do have serious organised crime and individuals we have to watch more closely,” says Black, “but there is more camaraderie. They really do have fantastic support for each other.” Close bonds can lead to bullying, which officers also look out for. 

HMP Foston Hall - where a shopping village was recently made by the prisoners

When it comes to drugs, the women are more likely to trade prescription medicines with one another than smuggle and deal in contraband, such as the ‘zombie’ drug spice. "We don't have a controlled drug problem, because the women find it very difficult to get drugs into the prison,” says Black. “Instead, they will trade medications. Everything in a prison is currency.”

There was a recent incident of drugs being thrown over the fence disguised in a sweet packet, though, and “women have quite a few hidey-holes they can put the packages in,” she adds. 

Last week, Jonathan Hall QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, said keeping non-risky prisoners in custody longer could “expose them to worse influences than if released”. Black is aware of radicalisation in jail, but hasn’t seen it at HMP Foston Hall. 

“There’s always the potential,” she says, “but currently I haven’t got a lot of concerns.” 

2020欧洲杯足球即时比分HMP Foston Hall does have problems not found in male prisons though, such as pregnant and menopausal women. Many have also survived abuse of some kind - around 60 per cent of women in prison have suffered from domestic violence, as well as trauma, sexual and social abuse.

“I have mums who have given up their babies,” she says. “Some of my prisoners were abused as children, some of them have been sold for sexual activity by their mum, some of them have been raped as teenagers, and others were very badly abused over a long period of time.” 

Tensions can run high on the wings, as vulnerable women struggle to manage their emotions. Many suffer from mental health problems and a number of women have killed themselves inside the prison.

“It's very hard for them to manage their demons and find methods to cope in life,” says Black. “It can be quite traumatic at times and mentally exhausting.” 

Black built a first-of-its-kind ‘Family Bonding unit’ in a disused outhouse, where prisoners can apply to spend a day with their parents, children and partners. It has a living room, kitchen, games room and garden, where they can act as they would on the outside. When we visit, a prisoner and her parents are eating a roast chicken lunch. There is a freshly baked sponge cooling on the side. 

The entrance to the Family Bonding Unit in a disused outhouse
One of the rooms in the Family Bonding Unit, where prisoners can meet their children or parents Credit: Andrew Crowley/The Telegraph

Black wants to expand this area with facilities for newborn babies. “I will fight to make sure we do our best to get a mother and baby unit here in the Midlands,” she says. “I don’t have children in the prison here and that is something I would love.” She concedes that children in prisons is a “debatable factor”, but doesn’t think women should have to choose between giving up their child or being relocated to a prison scores of miles away. There is an ongoing review into mother and baby wings.

At any given time in HMP Foston Hall, there are half a dozen transgender prisoners - natal males and females who are transitioning, and have opted to be placed in a woman’s prison. One in 50 prisoners now identify as transgender2020欧洲杯足球即时比分, according to the Prison Officers Association, and the issue over where they should be placed has become highly politicised. 

2020欧洲杯足球即时比分“The individual has a choice – do they want to be in a male or female prison?” says Black. “It's highly sensitive, clearly, but I do think that women in custody are quite forgiving, supportive and tolerant of difference.”

There have been incidents of transgender prisoners exploiting their moves, such as the case of Karen White, who sexually assaulted two women while on remand at New Hall jail, Wakefield. 

“Certainly, there are some that are high profile cases, which cause concern,” says Black. “But thankfully none of them are accommodated here. There’s a clear process and a lot of people are involved in the decision making process before they’re allocated.” 

Andrea Black outside the Foston Hall building with the 2 donkeys that live at the prison

Prison spaces are due to run out in two years2020欧洲杯足球即时比分, according to the latest estimates. Although Foston Hall is currently under-subscribed, Black says there needs to be more support in the community to stop reoffending. There are just 101 hostel beds in England and Wales for women who are leaving prison, meaning some are left with nowhere to live, which can lead to them relapsing. 

“That is quite scary,” says Black. “You know full well that once the temporary accommodation ceases, they're going to be homeless and back on the streets. Then they'll get back with the people they've escaped and resort to what they know best, which is drug taking2020欧洲杯足球即时比分 or crime - exhibiting, prostitution, shoplifting. It's very tragic" 

When Black was diagnosed with breast cancer after a routine mammogram last year, she wrote a letter to the prisoners and posted it on a notice board. To many, it humanised her. “They didn't expect me to get it - you don't expect the governor to get anything wrong,” she says.

Speaking to her husband, an operations manager, about her job, she often finds they come across similar problems at work. “You're just managing people, a business and people; you'll get trouble and strife in all walks of life, it's just a different set of circumstances,” she says. “I come through the gate every morning and think how lucky I am.”  

concludes tonight on Channel 4, 9pm. Series catch up is available on All 4

‘It’s St Trinian’s on crack’: meet the woman in charge of Britain’s ‘wokest’ prison