Tuesday, 13 December 2016

HMP Shrewsbury

Closed in 2013, this building dates back to 1868, but there has been a prison on this site in Shrewsbury since 1791. The jailhouse, known as The Dana, held famous inmates, including Robert Welch, one of the Great Train Robbers. Butcher George Riley was the last prisoner to be hanged at the prison in 1961. Our visit, in November 2016 was a permission visit - the prison now being open to visitors. It was a quiet day, visitor-wise, and we pretty much had the place to ourselves.

 The prison is quite large, on three flours. On the main "A" wing, the cells run along both sides of the corridors, with a net in place in the gap.

 The cells were quite small, dark and dingy. There was a toilet and sink in each cell and a metal bunk bed. When the doors slammed shut, it must have felt a very bleak and lonely place to be locked up in. It must have been terrifying to be locked up on your first night.

 Before closure, Shrewsbury was a Category B/C prison accepting adult males from the local courts in its catchment area. Accommodation at the prison consisted of double occupancy cells in mostly Victorian buildings. The prison offered education and workshops to inmates. A Listener Scheme was also available to prisoners at risk of suicide or self-harm.

 The prison was eerily quiet on the day of our visit - how different it must have been when the prison was full of inmates - banging, shouting, screaming!

In September 2004, MP George Stephenson, called for an enquiry into the amount of suicides which had occurred at Shrewsbury Prison. This came after three inmates had hanged themselves at the jail in two weeks

This railway track was given to the prison at a cost of £60,000 by an ex-inmate who left the prison to get a job in Network Rail. The ex-prisoner then installed the track in the prison to help inmates learn to lay sleepers, providing them with the opportunity to get a well paid job on leaving the prison.

A report in 2005 named Shrewsbury prison as the most overcrowded in England and Wales. Three years later a further report stated that the prison had an overcrowding rate of 183%. A report in June 2012 by the Prison Reform Trust awarded Shrewsbury second place for overcrowding, holding 326 prisoners in space designed for 170 men.

Apart from this one snooker table, there was no evidence of any other entertainment for the inmates, save for perhaps a portable TV set in their cells.

"They hang us now in Shrewsbury jail:
The whistles blow forlorn,
And trains all night groan on the rail
To men that die at morn."
"A Shropshire Lad" by A.E. Housman.

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