Homes for the dangerous


Category A Prisons- high security prisons where the most dangerous, and difficult to manage, prisoners are kept

I was at a conference once, on child attachment, the speaker was talking about some of these prisons and prisoners kept there. She talked of how damaged they were by what had happened to them in their childhood: abuse that changed a child’s brain,  causing irrevocable damage.

The speaker was a senior clinical psychologist and she told of conversations with prison wardens who have to look after these prisoners. The wardens pleaded with her that, “You have to get to these children before they are damaged, before they get to us and can not be rehabilitated”. Some of the behaviour is extreme and very difficult to manage. The officers who manage it daily do a very difficult job, and according to a recent report the officers who manage the most dangerous individuals do their job very well.

These prisoners, who are considered dangerous to the public, the police, national security and to the rest of the prison population, are held in Category A prisons. ‘A’ is the highest class of four, A, B, C, and D.  Category A prisoners are further divided into Standard Risk, High Risk, and Exceptional Risk, based on their likelihood of escaping.

The prisons are designed to make escape impossible and as such are also known as high security prisons. In the UK there are 8 maximum-security prisons: HMP Belmarsh, Frankland, Full Sutton, Long Lartin, Manchester, Wakefield, Whitemoor and Woodhill.

These prisons hold some of the most notorious criminals in the UK, many of whom are serving life sentences. HMP Wakefield holds many of these criminals, and HMP Frankland has earned the nickname, ’Monster Mansion” because of some of the dangerous inmates it houses, many of them transferred from Wakefield.

So I though we would take a closer look at some of these maximum security prisons and the ultra secure units within the prisons, starting with HMP Wakefield.

HMP Wakefield

HMP Wakefield is in West Yorkshire and is the largest maximum security in the United Kingdom. It was built in 1594 as a house of correction and has a long and colourful history.

Wakefield has a capacity of 751 and of that around 100 are category A prisoners. There are also around 10-12 high-risk prisoners in a close Supervision Centre (CSC) unit within the prisons for the most dangerous and difficult to manage prisoners. The CSC is a small therapeutic centre aiming to provide a supportive, safe, structured and consistent environment for some of the most challenging offenders. These CSC units are surprisingly well run and offer prisoners good outcomes according to a 2018 report in. The first CSC in the UK was built in Wakefield

Wakefield takes in primarily sex offenders and those with over five years to serve.


HMP Wakefield was designated a Dispersal prison in 1966 and is the oldest of the Dispersal prisons still operating across England and Wales. In the First World War Wakefield was used as a Home Office work camp and by 1916 also held conscientious objectors prisoner.

After the war HMP Wakefield was used to house IRA prisoners due to its high security features. In 1976 Frank Stagg died in the prison, he had been part of one of the notorious hunger strikes by the provisional IRA.

The Mulberry Bush

One interesting thing about HMP Wakefield is that apparently there was a mulberry bush is the exercise yard, the women prisoners used to dance around it to exercise. This has been linked to the nursery rhyme, ‘Here we go round the Mulberry Bush’. The tree was removed in May 2019 as it died. A cutting from it was taken by a retired prison officer and will be used in an attempt to grow the tree again.

The last inspection at Wakefield was in 2018, the prison was found to be good on the whole. The major area of weakness was around prisoners with severe mental health issues. However, Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons said that this was not necessarily a failing of Wakefield but more of the failing of the prison system as a whole. Clarke issued recommendation to the Prisons’ Minister in the hope that he can use his influence to initiate effective cross-departmental action to address the problem.

The issue is the lack of speed in which prisoners with severe mental health problems, under the Mental Health Act are transferred to secure accommodation.  Clarke said the delays are totally unacceptable and means that many prisoners are held in non therapeutic conditions which exacerbate their condition.

Hall of Notoriety: 5 of the worst that have been held at Wakefield

Ian Huntley

Huntley was sentenced to life for the murder of school girl friends Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, he was given two life sentences and will serve 40 years before he is released. He served the first part of his sentence in Wakefield before being transferred to Frankland Prison in 2008.

Harold Shipman

Harold Shipman is believed ot be responsible for over 218 deaths. He was convicted of 15 murders in 2000 and sentenced to life. However in 2004  he hung himself to death in his prison cell at Wakefield.

Charlie Bronson

Bronson has been called Britain’s most violent prisoner on more then one occasion. He has attacked both officers, including a warden and other inmates. He now calls himself Charles Salvador and donates his art works to charity……

Levi Bellfield

Convicted killer of Amelie Delagrange, Marsha McDonnell, Milly Dowler and the attempted murder of Kate Sheedy. He will never be released from prison. In 2015, he reportedly confessed to more crimes from his Wakefield cell, which police investigated but found no evidence of.

Ian Watkins

Ian Watkins, the Lost prophet’s singer and sexual predator was sentenced to 35 years in 2013 for a string of child sex offences, including the attempted rape of a baby. He’s now been moved from Wakefield. Whilst there, he made  friends with child killer Mick Philpott.

Prison Phone, Keeping prisoners and families connected
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