Wrexham’s prison has been open for just over three weeks and the local rumour-mill is as active as ever painting a picture of a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory style five star wonderland behind the walls.
Wrexham.com has spoken with various sources to check out if there was any truth in some of the ‘facts’ doing the rounds.
Questions and points raised have been collated from our conversations locally and posts on social media.
Below are a set of questions we have hunted answers for via our own research and direct questions to the National Offender Management Service who run HMP Berwyn.
One point debated literally hundreds of times is the argument over punishment v rehabilitation, and if the prison is ‘tough enough’ or a soft option.
The answer will come down to personal opinion, however it is worth highlighting that in the forthcoming legislation change of the Prisons and Courts bill, it notes for the first time rehabilitation is enshrined in law: “It will enshrine into law that a key purpose of prison is to reform and rehabilitate offenders, as well as punish them for the crimes they have committed.” (source) This law of course enacted via elected representatives (aside from the Queen) that you may have turned out to vote for.
On with the questions and answers…
Do men have laptops or computers?
They will have laptops that are assigned to individuals so it is their property to take care of. There are computers in the learning and skills area.
Do men have mobile phones?
No. Mobile phones are illegal in prisons, despite national headlines saying this is happening in HMP Berwyn. We have also discovered that back in 2013 a solicitor’s clerk was jailed for texting a client inside a prison – as communicating with an illegal device is itself against the law.
Is there WiFi internet access?
No. There is cabled intranet, not internet, access to limited internally provided information pages and education systems. There is also ability to arrange visits, requests and the like, all replacing slower paper based systems.
Do all cells have telephones in them?
Will men be able to call friends and families every night from their cell?
Every prisoner is issued with a PIN and can earn call credit. Phonecalls are only made to approved and verified numbers, to ensure those getting the call want to be called. All calls are recorded.
Do all cells have televisions, is that unusual compared to other prisons?
No, all prisons now have televisions although access can be restricted due to behaviour.
What channels do the televisions get, do they get BT / Sky Sports?
The televisions get a limited ‘freeview’ style channel, there is no premium or paid channels.
Do guards have to knock to enter?
Prison officers will knock before entering as part of the prison’s drive to teach respect and build a principle of normality. This does not mean the prison officer won’t go into the room.
Is there a dance studio in the prison?
There is space in the learning and skills which can be used as a dance studio.
Is there a jacuzzi in the prison?
Is there a cinema room?
No but there will be space in the prison that can be used as a screening area.
It is possible to order takeaways to the prison?
Prisoners will be able to smoke / have free vapes?
Berwyn is a smoke free prison and is the first prison to open fully smoke free. The men can buy certain e-cigarettes which have been pre-approved by the national security group. They cannot get them for free.
The prison was ‘sold’ to the people of Wrexham as a Category C, and then told may hold some B prisoners. Are any ‘downgraded’ Cat A?
Berwyn is built to a Category B standard but will only hold Category C prisoners. There will be men who started their sentence as Category A prisoners. Since then they would have undertaken a number of offender management programmes to reduce their risk and will have been thoroughly assessed before having their categorisation lowered. They are likely to have been in prison for many years.
Men can earn £25 a week, with everything else provided for free?
The men have accommodation and three meals a day. Anything else they have to buy themselves. If they damage any of the property provided to them by the prison service, they will have to pay for that.
Many people have picked up on the gym pictures, comparing their own membership fees and resources. Will men have to earn that privilege
Gym time is limited to one hour a week for people on standard reward and responsibility and additional time can be earned. The prison will be encouraging team sport activity over working in the gym to promote working together and building relationships.
Men will have their own keys to their cells?
Men can earn access to their own keys as a reward, however this lock is still overriden by a separate lock controlled by guards.
Are four GP’s are employed on the HMP Berwyn site for exclusive use of prisoners?
Betsi Cadlwadr University Health Board has commissioned GPs and optometry services to provide care within the prison and the numbers of staff are being currently subject to commercial confidence but will be available once the contracts have been finalised.
There is not enough parking capacity on site for the prison?
Once the prison is fully operational rather than still partly a building site, there will be ample parking. NOMS say they acknowledge that there have been issues with parking recently because of the volume of building contractors and operational staff on site. NOMS added they have tried to manage this the best we can by securing external parking and providing shuttle buses but they apologise for the issues caused to the local residents.
Prisoners get three meals a day plus snacks for free?
The men get three meals a day but they have the option to buy additional food from the shop.
Prisoners will be released into the Wrexham community, and Council Housing will be used to house them.
Men will be returned to where they lived so men who are from Wrexham will be released back to Wrexham. This would have been the case before Berwyn was built. People who aren’t from Wrexham will be returned to their home communities. NOMS say: “We work hard to make sure men have an address to be released to as this reduced their chances of reoffending but the criteria set out by Welsh Government for allocation of council housing does not give offenders any priorities.”
The mattresses are memory foam and are comfy?
When we visited the prison we sat / lay in a cell for a few minutes, and although the pictures show a thick-ish mattress, it was uncomfy and very firm.
This is better than University / Hotels / Military accommodation I have stayed at.
The accommodation is new and the photos were taken before anyone had slept in there so will naturally look clean and tidy. It is however, very basic and there isn’t even a door between the toilet and the room.
This was all due to be kept hidden until opening as they did not want people to see how nice it was.
Several open days had been arranged for local community groups and stakeholders. These include faith groups, MPs, AMs, Rotary groups, local Magistrates, scouts and police cadets. More than 2,000 people have been into the prison either through formal organised tours or through invitations from individual members of staff.
I spoke to a builder/contractor/someone who said there was hidden items found ready to help prisoners escape.
No, this isn’t true and the prison is given a full intensive sweep with search dogs before any men arrive.
It costs £500 a week to house each prisoner (£26k pa) ?
In the outline business case published two years ago, the cost per prisoner place was set at £14k. This may change because of changes in policy at national level.
Why do prisoners have a play area?
The soft play areas are in the publicly accessible areas for children who will be accompanying visitors, rather than in the prison itself.
It is like a 4 star / 5 star hotel ?
We know this is tongue in cheek – and we did have a nose at the AA’s assessment guides for hotels prior to our tour of the prison as we thought a ‘hotel inspector’ style guide could be fun. Based off what we have seen and read on the criteria we think it could be 1 star at most, as the lock-in and catering would not rank that highly. ‘Check in time limits’ and curfews are a fair bit stricter at HMP Berwyn than Butlins. You can check the AA’s hotel rating criteria here.
One local publication (now syndicated to The Daily Mail) has said there are three blocks, and “the blocks are broken up into 24 communities, which can hold up to 88 people”, perhaps suggesting the capacity of each block is 2000+ people and therefore 6000+ for the prison. What is the capacity?
2,106. There are three blocks with just over 700 cells each.
Hopefully the above gives you more insight to the new facility on the Industrial Estate, and with the announcement Port Talbot and Full Sutton near York will likely be having their own versions built – it might provide a handy reference point for the new style prison estate in the UK.
Below is our film of the prison, shot on the opening day itself, in glorious 4K: