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The BBC's Jane Peel
"No longer are prisoners locked up 23 hours a day"
 real 28k

Friday, 31 March, 2000, 03:27 GMT
Riot prison no longer 'penal dustbin'
John Smith
John Smith: Strangeways now a much more humane place
The governor of Strangeways prison has said conditions in the jail are a world away from those that triggered Britain's most violent and expensive prison riot 10 years ago.

John Smith said Strangeways, now called HMP Manchester, was no longer the "penal dustbin" which saw inmates locked up for 23 hours a day with no access to sanitation in their cells.

On 1 April, 1990, prisoners at Strangeways went on the rampage through the Victorian jail, attacking prison officers and beating sex offenders.

prisoners on roof
Prisoners staged a 25-day rooftop siege in 1990
Since the 25-day rooftop siege, more than 120m has been spent on rebuilding the overcrowded prison.

At the time of the riot, in which one inmate and a prison officer died, the jail contained 1,647 prisoners in accommodation designed for only 970.

Most were held three to a cell with no internal sanitation.

The jail now houses just more than 1,100 inmates although its certified level is just under 1,000.

More humane

Mr Smith, who has spent nearly two years in charge of the prison, said it was now much more humane.

"Then they would have been locked up 23 hours a day with no access to sanitation in their cells. They might have one shower a week and clean clothes if they were lucky," he said.

"Now they are unlocked 12 hours a day and the vast majority have access to an activity programme 30 hours a week. There are daily showers and they are allowed to wear their own clothes."

He said prison officers now worked with the prisoners towards reducing the risk to the public when they are discharged.

Staff also claim to have taken major strides in tackling the drug problem within the jail.

About 60% of the prisoners have a history of serious drug abuse but the authorities say they have reduced the level of drug abuse to about 10%.

Management also point to the introduction of women officers, who now form 20% of the staff, as helping to bring about a change in attitudes in the prison.

Prison officer Kevin Flynn, who was on duty when the rioting broke out, said there had been massive changes in the way the prison was run.

"Inmates are able to do constructive work instead of just being locked up," he said.

Mr Smith said the Strangeways riot had driven forward improvements in the Prison Service which would eventually have happened anyway.

"If there hadn't been these sort of disturbances the Prison Service would still have moved on in the way it was already moving," he said. "It might just have taken longer."

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See also:

28 Mar 00 | UK
Strangeways: Ten years on
27 Mar 00 | UK
'Tension mounts' in jails
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