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Wrexham’s New Prison HMP Berwyn Opens

NOTE: This content is old - Published: Tuesday, Feb 28th, 2017.

HMP Berwyn has opened today with the first prisoners moving in this afternoon. Wrexham.com took a tour this morning of the new £250m facility to find out more.

We will have our full video tour and interview video later this week, below is a trailer for that longer piece:

After almost two and a half years in construction HMP Berwyn this afternoon welcomed its first ever intake of new prisoners.

Located on the former Firestone site on the Wrexham Industrial Estate, the Category C prison will initially house a few hundred men before eventually reaching its full capacity of 2,100 likely later this year.

Ahead of the arrival of the first group of men this afternoon, media from across North Wales were invited on a tour around Wrexham’s new prison – including a look into the visiting family centre, kitchens and one of the blocks.

During the tour it was stated by staff that emphasis at HMP Berwyn was on creating an atmosphere as close to normality as possible for those staying there.

As part of this approach those living at the prison are known as ‘men’ not prisoners – with the term cell replaced with ‘rooms’. Staff and the men staying there are also encouraged to refer to each other by their first or preferred names.

Nick Dann, Deputy Project Director at HMP Berwyn explained the approach and key priority at HMP Berwyn is based on the ‘principles of normality’ – a theory first raised by Nelson Mandela after his treatment in prison.

The approach focuses on creating an environment that is as normal as possible to help make the transition process out of prison easier.

HMP Berwyn is split into two main areas – the first consisting of three large housing blocks where the men will live and the second being a ‘sterile’ area for staff only.

Named after water features in North Wales – Bala, Ceriog and Alwen, each of the prison’s three housing blocks will each be home to just over 700 men. The houses will then be broken down into eight ‘communities’ consisting of 88 men. The block design is different from a traditional prison, with a two storey block capped with a ceiling rather than an entirely open hall.

There are also subsections to the prison, including a segregation unit with 24 cells, and leisure areas. These include a sports centre, small five aside pitches and a 3G pitch – each of which can be used in certain conditions and only when the men have completed their daily work or education. We are told community groups, and Wrexham Football Club, are likely to be able to access the 3G pitch.

On the health front it was noted that HMP Berwyn will be a smoke free prison and will undergo the first national trial which will allow the men to vape, with devices being allowed on arrival and then refills then earnt.

At present only Bala is operational, which is where the first intake of men will be staying. The remaining two houses, parts of which are still under construction, will be open in May and July 2017.

During a tour around the now open section of the prison, Mr Dann explained that the men could have their own keys to their rooms to help provide them with their own independence and privacy. The locks can be opened and closed by security whose keys ‘override’ that of the men. There is also a small hole in the door to allow fire hose access if required.

There are two room options, single occupant and double occupant cells. In the rooms themselves there is a single bed with storage underneath, a plastic chair, a desk, a small bathroom facility with a shower and toilet and basin, a cupboard, a television and access to a phone. The men can also access laptops which will allow them to book in visits with their family and also arrange their hot and cold meal choices for the next week – with a budget of just £2.20 per prisoner per day.

Not all the ‘perks’ will be available to all prisoners, but there is a facility to provide them if desired by management.

Locally there has been some criticism that HMP Berwyn will be a ‘cushy offering’, with some anecdotally saying they have ‘stayed in worse hotels’ – and if you check our full video later this week, we ask the prison Governor about that.

However Mr Dann offered assurances that items such as phones and laptops can only be used in strict conditions. The phones themselves require pin access and only approved and verified phone numbers can be added to the system. The laptops, as with the desktop computers in the prison’s library only provide access to an educational intranet system, rather than full internet access.

Along with the ‘principle of normality’ another key approach of HMP Berwyn is rehabilitation and the emphasis on providing the men with the necessary skills they need to gain employment and resettle into local communities once out of the prison. It is hoped that this approach will stop those inside the prison from reoffending when they leave, and thus society as a whole benefits as well as the individual.

Provided by an £18.7m partnership between Novus, the UK’s largest provider of education, training and employability programmes to offenders and Coleg Cambria, the site’s college will offer a range of opportunities to boost the men’s skill sets.

In Coleg Berwyn the term ‘education’ is not used, with Mr Dann explaining that some of the men have negative connotations, have had bad experiences in the past or even let down by the education system. Instead the emphasis is on the word college, which will focus on improving basis literacy and numeracy skills – along with providing vocational training to help the men into employment.

Welsh classes for both the men and staff are also available, along with a media suite, art classes and a library facility.

On the walls in Coleg Berwyn are posters with inspirational stories from those whose lives have been turned around by the education system they have received in prison. One such quote came from a man, who despite struggling with his literacy skills, felt inspired to write following a guest visit from a poet.

HMP Berwyn is also seen as a ‘working prison’, with the men having a chance to earn a wage of between £12 and £25 a week via the various jobs available, with the output linked to local and national companies.

One such job is at the kitchen, where up to 40 men will work full-time to make around 2,106 hot and cold meals, twice a day. Here the men will have the chance to work alongside the college and gain qualifications in food hygiene and catering.

Security has also been a key concern for many residents across the Wrexham area, with several well-documented issues within prisons across the country raising fears about the potential safety risks.

Speaking to HMP Berwyn Governor Russell Trent after the tour, Wrexham.com referenced a recent incident in Liverpool which saw a man escape from a Category A prison and asked what assurances he could give the public of Wrexham that similar wouldn’t happen here.

He said: “I don’t know the specifics of the Liverpool escape, only what I’ve seen on the news, so I couldn’t make any comment on that at all. What I can say is that this is a Category C, the men that will be held here will be Category C, which is the lowest category of men who need to be held in a secure setting.

“We’ve got the security. You’ll have seen yourself what you’ve walked around, it feels like an incredibly secure institution.”

The use of Psychoactive Substances (legal highs) and inmates using social media are two other issues which have received a high level of publicity during recent debates on the UK’s prison system. We asked Mr Trent how HMP Berwyn would deal with such substances making their way into the prison and being used.

“I think psychoactive substances are a challenge for every prison and I’m sure it will be a challenge for us as well,” said Mr Trent.

“What I am sure about is that I have tried my absolute best with my security team to make sure every measure that we know has been put into place to make sure that it is not going to be a significant problem to us.

“However I think with any type of drug there’s two sides. One part is the supply and we need to do everything we can to disrupt supply. Then we need with the psychosocial part of drugs – it is about educating the men who live here to make sure they don’t have demand for the drugs. So we will try reduce demand and make supply difficult so they have a fighting chance.”

Referencing the use of laptops, phones and the facilities, we also asked Mr Trent why he thought the ethos of making the prison environment as normal as possible would work.

He explained: “The principle of normality is something which came from the Mandela rules. Nelson Mandela after spending a long time in custody came up with a small number of rules, one of which is basically if you make the experience in custody as similar to the experience in the community then the transition from one to the other will be more seamless.

“I think that makes absolute sense. It is important we use normal language – language which people use in the community, rather than institutional language which people use in custody. One of those is rooms rather than cells, that is one of the many.

“I think using preferred names is equally as important because calling someone by a name they choose to be called by is the first step into showing respect. If you show respect it shows trust. If you have trust and respect it reduces the chance of violence between the men and the people who have the chance to look after them.

He added: “We are going to be able to give every man who works here the opportunity to be educated either vocationally, with numeracy and literacy; IT, or a work place or some offender behaviour programmes.

“Every person that lives here will have the chance to have a job during the day and I think that’s really important.

“I think also what we’ve got at Berwyn is facilities that from all the prisons across the UK and wider, is everything we’ve learnt that works well is here at Berwyn, so everything we know works well is here, everything we’ve learnt which doesn’t has been taken out.

“It is a real opportunity to do custody differently.”

Above is a teaser video of our tour, with a full video, including an extended Q&A with the HMP Berwyn Governor, available online later this week.

 

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