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Kate visits offenders in addiction treatment unit at women's prison

Published 25/09/2015

The Duchess of Cambridge speaks to Isha Walker, who is taking part in a programme run by the Rehabilitation of Addicted Prisoners Trust, during a visit to HMP Send in Surrey
The Duchess of Cambridge speaks to Isha Walker, who is taking part in a programme run by the Rehabilitation of Addicted Prisoners Trust, during a visit to HMP Send in Surrey

The Duchess of Cambridge has heard the uplifting stories of offenders battling their addictions in a unique unit within a women's prison.

Kate sat down and chatted with the female prisoners and ex-offenders during her first trip to a jail - HMP Send near Guildford, Surrey.

A group of prisoners eat, sleep and receive treatment for their addictions within a self-contained building run by the charity RAPt (Rehabilitation for Addicted Prisoners Trust) at the prison.

The Duchess is patron of the charity Action on Addiction and through her involvement with the organisation is aware that substance dependency lies at the heart of many social issues.

Send was in lock-down when Kate arrived and with its immaculate gardens, tended by the inmates, the complex of two-storey cell blocks had a tranquil air.

Kate was dressed for the occasion in a grey dress by The Fold, and before she met the prisoners had a private meeting with Dave Charity, the prison's deputy governor, Mike Trace, RAPt's chief executive, and other senior figures from both organisations.

In the RAPt centre's community room Kate sat down in a comfortable chair with a group of women all known by their first names, offender Isha, 33, and two former inmates who have successfully been through the programme, Kirsty and Lacey both 36.

On the walls were positive quotes from world figures like Nelson Mandela and Albert Einstein and an anonymous message which read "Addiction is the only disease that tells you you're alright".

Kirsty, a former heroin and crack addict, told the Duchess: "I'm eight years clean now. I walked out of these gates on the 4 August 4, 2008," adding that both her parents had been drug users and that being "clean" of substances was a concept introduced to her at Send.

The 36-year-old, who now works as an outreach worker for sex offenders in Gloucester, described an early experience that demonstrated how drug use was an everyday part of her family life.

As Kate listened intently she said: "I remember finding a margarine tub under my dad's bed and it had syringes in it, and knowing what they were for - I must have been five or six - so it was normalised."

Speaking about the Duchess' reaction to the story, Kirsty said afterwards: "She was saddened probably, anybody would be, it's not nice for anybody to hear that anybody was in that situation.

"I think what it also does is it creates some understanding, it gives a backdrop. Because you know, sometimes the way that addicts live their lifestyles we're not the greatest advertisement for humanity are we?

"And so sometimes to hear there's a potential reason, that it isn't just that we woke up one day and decided to test our families' lives and create absolute chaos in communities, there were reasons - some acceptable, some not - but there were reasons."

Offender Isha completed RAPt's drug programme three weeks ago and is now supporting other women enrolled with the initiative.

She told Kate: "It's very intense, you get a lot out of the programme," and said she was thankful for the "support" she had received.

After listening, the Duchess congratulated her on beating her addiction, saying: "Well done, that's really fantastic."

Since the RAPt unit opened in 2000, around 450 women have been through its course, the only six-month intensive 12-step programme for women prisoners in the country.

Female offenders from across the prison population can request to be sent to the 20-bed unit, which tackles the underlying reasons for their addictive behaviour and other issues, in an environment where drug use is not tolerated.

HMP Send has 282 women prisoners, with almost three-quarters of them with long-term sentences of four years or more and a number serving life terms.

A Prison Service spokeswoman said it had a "zero tolerance" approach to drug use within prisons and it was a criminal offence to throw drugs over prison walls.

During the last financial year 334 random drugs tests were carried out at Send, with three positive results, a rate of 0.9%.

Kate joined another group of offenders on the programme for a private meeting and when she left was presented with goods made by the prisoners and sold at craft fairs locally.

Isha gave her two small aprons for her children Prince George and Princess Charlotte and a bag containing honey made from bees kept at the prison, and pastries baked by the inmates.

The offender, who will be leaving Send in December 2016, said Kate commented about the aprons: "She said George is going to need it for his painting and colouring and said say thank you to all the ladies for contributing to the honey and cakes."

She added: "I come from a background of alcohol and drug abuse. From the age of 15 it was various different drugs that I was experimenting with. I had to fund my habit by committing crimes which sent me to prison.

"If there had been support like this on the outside, it would be so much better and easier for people."

Speaking about meeting Kate, she added: "I was so nervous but she was lovely, such a kind lady, and so soft you know."

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