Britain’s Ten Worst Prisons- HMP Hull

In August 2018 Rory Stewart, England’s Prison Minister announced a plan to tackle violence at ten of Britain’s worst prisons. Dubbed the ‘Ten Prisons Project’, we take a look at the third prison on the list, HMP Hull, six months into the project.

HMP Hull was opened in 1870 as a men’s and women’s prison, just two miles from Hull’s city centre. Since then it has had many roles, from a Military Prison in 1939 to a civil Defence Depot later on in the war. In 1950 it was repurposed as a Closed Male Borstal, but in 1969 after extensive work on security it became one of the first maximum security dispersal prisons. In 1989 it was given its current role as a male local prison. The prison site was expanded in 2002 to hold four new wings, a new healthcare centre, a new sports hall and a new multi faith centre. Other parts of the prison including the kitchen and the education workshops were significantly refurbished.

The operational capacity of HMP Hull is 1044. As a local prison it holds around 66% convicted males and the rest are held on remand. There are very few under 21s there but 43% of the population are there for sex offences. Hull has held its share of infamous prisoners, including for a short time, Tommy Robinson, founder of the EDL and Charles Bronson who was given the dubious title of Britain’s most violent prisoner. In 1999 Bronson took a visiting art teacher hostage at the prison.

Despite the extensive building and refurbishment program in 2002 in August this year, Rory Stewart included HMP Hull on his ten worst prison list. Although Hull is by no means the worst prison in the UK there are serious concerns as revealed in the 2018 unannounced inspection report. One of the main concerns was that two thirds of prisoners are sharing tiny cramped cells, a hangover from the prison’s Victorian past. The second biggest concern was that since 2014 there had been 5 suicides at the prison and that self-harm had increased drastically. The inspection found there had been no investigation of why self-harm had increased so dramatically so there could be no plan to reduce it. As in the other nine prisons drug abuse was a challenge with 24% of prisoners testing positive for banned substances, although this was down from 50% in 2014. Violence had also increased substantially but unlike other prisons the intensity of the violence was lower. Alongside the increase in violence had been an increase in the use of force by officers, although this was in line with recommendations. High risk prisoner’s supervision was still found to be weak and public protection arrangements need improvement. The inspection found education and workshops to be good, but 23% of prisoners were locked up during the day, which isn’t ideal.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector for Prisons said in general HMP Hull was working well with a comprehensive drug supply reduction strategy in place, a plan to renovate the cells and excellent behaviour programmes for sex offenders. Most prisoners now feel safe and 87% of prisoners say they feel respected. First night procedures have improved significantly since 2014 when they were considered dangerous and abusive. Clarke reported that the staff were confident and authoritative and there was a good working relationship with the inmates throughout the prison.

HMP Hull won this year’s award for best kept prison garden! Twenty prisoners keep this garden up to scratch and say it gives them a real sense of self worth. Food from the garden is used in the kitchen and some is given to local food banks. One of the inmates says he now wants to train further in horticulture and possibly open his own landscaping business in the future. This project shows the real worth of meaningful projects in prisons and how they can aid in reducing reoffending.

Under the ‘Ten Prisons Project’ project, governors at each prison have been provided with new scanners capable of detecting packages inside bodies, and sniffer dogs trained to detect new psychoactive substances. Prisons Minister Rory Stewart said that given a prison population of 84,000 and over 100 prisons, challenging standards are needed so prisons can become places where offenders can turn their lives around. He hopes the project will set the standards needed and be a role model for the entire prison estate to emulate.

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