HMP Downview is a women’s closed category prison located on the outskirts of Banstead in Surrey. It is a public prison, operated by HMPPS, with a population of around 300 women. The prison is divided into four wings A-D and also has a juvenile unit for young offenders as well. Wing D is a resettlement wing, and each wing is single cell accommodation. The prison is very close in proximity to HMP High Down, which is category B male prison.
History of Downview Prison
Formerly a nurses’ home, part of Banstead Hospital, the building was converted and opened as a Category C male prison in 1989.
In September 2001, due to an increasing demand of places in women’s prisons, Downview became a closed category female prison.
In 2002 the prison hit headlines when one of the prison’s chaplains was accused of bribing female prisoners with communion wine in exchange for sexual favours. He swiftly resigned and the prison investigated the issue.
Two years later, December 2004 was when the juvenile unit was added to HMP Downview for young female offenders aged 15-18.
In 2013, the Ministry of Justice announced that HMP Downview would be turned back into a male prison. Downview closed in preparation of the renovations but was reopened in 2016 once again as a female prison. This was due to the closure of HMP Holloway, another female prison, and hence an increased demand for places for female offenders.
The Transgender Unit at HMP Downview
Earlier this year, the Ministry of Justice announced that a wing in Downview prison would become specifically reserved for transgender inmates. HMP Downview became the first prison in the UK to provide such a wing.
This policy of a transgender wing, separate from the rest of the prisoners, was implemented after Karen White, a transgender prisoner, sexually assaulted two women at New Hall jail, a female closed category prison in Wakefield. Karen White, who was born male but identifies as a woman, was described as a “predator” and a danger to women and children and sentenced to life in prison for sexual offences.
The Ministry of Justice said that prisoner safety was their “biggest concern”, but they equally want to ensure that transgender offenders experience the justice system in “the gender in which they identify”. For this reason, the specialised wing was introduced, giving transgender women the freedom to live in their identified gender. However, these prisoners will not have any access or interaction with the other women in the prison, ensuring that the other inmates feel safe as well.
In an everchanging world, the issue of gender identity is a challenge for HMPPS- things aren’t black and white anymore, and gender is seemingly more complex than just male and female. Last year, it was estimated that 125 prisoners in England and Wales identified as transgender, so it is clearly a situation that needs handling. The wing in Downview initially catered for three transgender women, but this number will imminently rise. This new policy is still under review and is by no means final, but undoubtably similar units will need to be introduced in other prisons in the next few years.
Rehabilitation, The Downview Approach
The prison has recently introduced two sports-based rehabilitation programmes, outlined below. On top of that, there are a variety of courses available for employability, including call centre training, catering, and cleaning. Inmates can benefit from vocational training including a range of Maths and English courses, IT, and business administration. The resettlement wing also provides work opportunities and links to educational courses outside of the prison.
A new rehabilitative sports programme, which twins football clubs with prisons in the UK, has been introduced to HMP Downview. In May, Arsenal Football Club was twinned with Downview, and the club started up a six-week programme for 12 Downview inmates at a time, involving weekly workshops, both theory and practical based. The main aims outlined by the project are to develop leadership skills, form positive relationships, and build up coordination, fitness, and knowledge of the game. After completing the course, the prisoners earn a certificate from Arsenal, officially recognising their participation. The scheme focuses on building inmates’ self-esteem through teamwork and physical activity and developing skills which will benefit them upon release.
To be able to take part in the programme, inmates must have a good record- no violence or drug use. In High Down prison, this incentive seems to be very effective, as the prison has seen an 83% reduction in violent behaviour since the introduction of the sport.
The Ministry of Justice reports that 29% of adults and 42% of young people reoffend within one year of release. But there is evidence to suggest sports-based programmes in prison can reduce recidivism rates dramatically, and ping pong is a light-hearted and accessible sport that has been received really well among prisoners. the Ministry of Justice hopes to bring ping pong to more prisons in the future.
Notable Inmate, Farah Damji
The prison was home of the notorious conwoman Farah Damji, also known as Farah Dan, after she was convicted of multiple counts of fraud and, later on in her life, stalking.
The daughter of property tycoon Amir Damji was arrested for stealing credit cards from family, friends, and business associates, and putting them in thousands of pounds of debt in the early 2000s.
In February 2005, with her trial soon approaching, Damji phoned the primary prosecution witness pretending to be someone from the Crown Prosecution Service and told him that he didn’t need to attend court. The witness didn’t show up and so the trial was adjourned. Meanwhile Damji committed more fraudulent crimes. She became notorious for her lack of remorse and sly tactics to escape the law. Eventually, she was arrested and convicted to three and a half years in prison.
After release, she continued to commit various crimes, including benefit fraud, false representation, and even creating charitable businesses that didn’t really exist to take advantage of various government funding schemes. She was convicted in 2010 and served 15 months in prison.
Much later, in 2016, Damji was convicted for three counts of stalking. Two of these cases were with the same male victim, who suffered hoax calls, and texts, false allegations of domestic abuse, explicit material being sent to his 16-year-old son, and threats of sexual violence towards his 6-year-old daughter. She has been in and out of various prisons in the UK and USA since her first sentence in 2005 and has been given multiple restraining orders which remain to this day.