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Sunday, February 8, 1998 Published at 20:59 GMT


Britain's own Alcatraz opens
image: [ The grand facade of Woodhill Prison hides a new top security unit ]
The grand facade of Woodhill Prison hides a new top security unit

An Alcatraz-style prison designed to house Britain's most dangerous and violent offenders has opened in Buckinghamshire.

The top-security jail at Woodhill, on the outskirts of Milton-Keynes, will house 50 inmates in high-security cells under a strict "last resort" regime aimed at rehabilitation.

The unit, opened on February 3, is the first attempt to to contain the worst offenders from England and Wales together in one institution.

The director-general of the Prison Service, Richard Tilt, visited Woodhill last Thursday, shortly after the first inmates began arriving.

[ image: Richard Tilt visited Woodhill on Thursday]
Richard Tilt visited Woodhill on Thursday
He described the compound as "therapeutic not punitive" and said: "There is a need to address the problem of prisoners who are continually disruptive or provide a consistent danger to staff and other inmates."

With specialist warders employed, officials are convinced the prison is the only hope of returning the convicts to near-normal behaviour.

The system as been designed to cope with criminals such as Charles Bronson, renowned as one of Britain's most dangerous prisoners.

Bronson, 45, who changed his name from Michael Peterson by deed poll, has committed more crimes in his 25 years in jail than he has on the outside.

[ image: Cells will house Britain's most violent and destructive offenders]
Cells will house Britain's most violent and destructive offenders
His offences include 20 assaults on warders, 10 counts of taking hostages - one of whom he threatened to eat.

Features of the jail include closed-circuit television, intercoms, visual as well as personal identification codes to access all doors, and electronic locking.

Cells are designed to prevent prisoners from fashioning weapons or tools.

The toilets and sinks are stainless steel and the mirrors are plastic. Tables and chairs are made of fire-proof compressed cardboard and each bed is nothing more than a mattress on a concrete plinth.

Prisoners will have to put up with a strong element of control with only a limited association between inmates.

They will have to meet behavioural targets in order to earn privileges.

Inmates will be given greater opportunity to socialise in an upstairs unit where they will be allowed more visits and uniforms are not compulsory.

But security remains a watchword and all areas will be covered by a central control unit with intercoms to all cells and alarm systems installed in the walls.

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