HMP Berwyn is a Cat C male adult prison, it is the largest prison in the UK, and the second largest in Europe, with a capacity of 2106. The prison itself is rather new, having being opened in February 2017, and no expenses were spared, as in total the cost of the build was £250 million.
The huge super jail is based in Wrexham, which is the largest town in the north of Wales. Permission was granted to build the prison in 2014, in order to assist in the reduction of some overcrowding issues throughout the estate, and to introduce a specifically built prison to increase levels of rehabilitation. Three separate houses make up Berwyn prison. There is Alwen, Bala and Ceiriog, as well as Ogwen, a care and support unit which can hold up to 21 men.
Bala was the first house to open in February 2017, while the other 2 didn’t open until later on in the year.
Ceiriog is a short term/ remand house, which serves two Crown Courts, and three Magistrates Courts in the north of the country.
Each house in divided into eight separate communities, each accommodating 88 men. The site also has a substantial expansion space.
The rooms are a mix between double and single accommodation. All rooms have a toilet and shower cubicle. Each room also has a phone, and a laptop for each occupant, these have restricted and monitored use, but allow inmates to submit applications, order food from the canteen and book visits. There are also additional phones available to use throughout the prison.
Opportunities for Prisoners
The prison has a built in college style facility, where classes are held in various vocational roles, such as carpentry and brick laying. There is also a gym, and sports facilities, as well as a library and visiting space, with a play area for children.
HMP Berwyn has a large percentage of housemates who have a history within the forces, in order to aid the rehabilitation of these inmates they have held workshops alongside Care after Combat, which is a charity whose sole purpose is to assist in the rehabilitation of veterans and their families.
The entire prison, having been built from scratch, is designed around the best way to rehabilitate the men who are accommodated there.
The modern, purpose built buildings are clean and spacious, in order to prevent health problems which prisoners can suffer after living in dirty, cramped conditions for a period of time.
The technology available in each room enables prisoners to apply for roles to fulfil once they are ready to leave the prison. Giving a sense of purpose and a positive plan to continue with upon release.
The Meee Programme piloted their Employment programme at HMP Berwyn in 2018, and continue to work within the prison.
HMP Berwyn in the news.
2017 – The prison opened it’s doors and the consensus within the press was somewhat mixed. The majority of stories were to do with ‘sneak peeks’ into the prison, as this super jail was the first of its kind.
2017 – HMP Berwyn was dubbed ‘the cushiest jail in the UK’, with a wide array of facilities for prisoners to use, and an apparent low use of discipline.
2018 – Governor Russ Trent was suspended for ‘undisclosed reasons’, he was later cleared of the allegations made against him, however, he was never reinstated.
2018 – Prison officers walk out of the prison in protest of the levels of violence within the prison. This protest was ordered by The Prison Officers Association, and ran across England and Wales.
March 2019 – The softer approach on prisoners is described as a ‘disaster’
July 2019 – A previous prisoner went to the press and told them his story of life at HMP Berwyn. He described the prison as being ‘run like a youth club’, he stated that drugs were readily available, and that the young, inexperienced staff had no respect from the men inside.
October 2019 – prison officer is taken hostage by a prisoner.
November 2019 – A prisoner dies from heart failure, believed to be due to smoking spice.
January 2020 – The prison was described by the press as ‘descending into crisis’, with high violence and drug use, as well as inexperienced staff. Criticism of prisons which house large numbers of prisoners arose.
January 2020 – Prison officer Ayshea Louise Gun, is jailed for 12 months for having a fling with prisoner Khuram Razaqduring his time there.
January 2020 – It is released in the press that HMP Berwyn will be one of the 16 prisons to receive high tech body scanners as part as a countrywide pledge to reduce drug use and violence within uk prisons.
February 2020 – It was reported that some senior judges were unhappy with issues that had become apparent since the prison began taking remand prisoners in December 2019. Prisoners being told that they didn’t have to attend court due to ‘not feeling well’, and prisoners not attending court via video link due to lack of enforcement, were amongst the issues.
March 2020 – It was reported that several staff and prisoners have shown signs of Covid19. Staff were sent home and prisoners have been moved to an unused wing of the prison.
It seems that the idea behind HMP Berwyn was a good one. The idealist view of it being a beacon of rehabilitation could still apply. It seems that the teething problems are taking longer to iron out, perhaps due to the pure size of the prison, and the fact that it is like no other prison we have within the UK. The suspension of the original Governor, who was involved in much of the planning, may have thrown an uninvited spanner into the works.
I hope that potentially there may be some more experienced staff invited into Berwyn, and perhaps the use of the new scanners will make a difference.