EASTWOOD Park women's prison has received praise from inspectors who made an unannounced visit to the complex in Falfield.

They said the way it had responded to the challenges of its population - 327 inmates at the time of the visit - was impressive.

A report said the prison held women from a wide geographical area stretching from Cornwall to Wolverhampton, across Wales and along the south coast.

Many of them were a long way from home, which was a particular problem for those with dependent children.

A significant number had disabilities, half were in touch with mental health services at the prison, nearly three quarters were having treatment for drug and alcohol misuse and there were about ten self-harm incidents every week.

Many of the women had histories of abuse, rape, domestic violence and involvement in prostitution. Few were at the prison for more than a few weeks with most staying less than three months.

Nick Hardwick, the chief inspector of prisons, said the inspectors were pleased to find good support for inmates during their first night and early days and much improved from a previous inspection in 2012.

They said support for women who were vulnerable to self-harm was good and the level of self-harm had greatly reduced, although still high.

Significant progress had been made in treating and supporting the women with substance misuse problems and there was a generally decent environment, with particularly strong staff-prisoner relationships.

Mr Hardwick said the women with disabilities had their needs met and time out of their cells was good for all inmates. There were enough activity places and a good work ethic was encouraged.

But inspectors were concerned that one in ten prisoners were aged 18-21 and little thought had been given to their specific needs.

Young adult women were more likely to be involved in self-harm and assaults and less likely to progress in education, while custody planning for women serving short sentences was underdeveloped.

The report said inmates should be allocated to activities more quickly and also highlighted the prison's good but underused mother and baby unit.

Mr Hardwick said: “Staff, managers and partner agencies at Eastwood Park, from top to bottom, should be proud of what they have achieved and the impressive mixture of compassion and professionalism we found on this inspection.

"The problems and needs they deal with go far beyond issues of crime and punishment.

"A large, closed institution, far from home, cannot be the best place to meet the needs we found among the women at Eastwood Park - and it is in view of those challenges that the outcomes achieved are all the more impressive."

He said there were still improvements to be made, while the prison was also set to expand.

Eastwood Park is due to become one of 70 resettlement prisons - a new system to get most offenders released from prisons in or near the area where they will live, allowing them to start rehabilitation in the community earlier.