HM Prison Aberdeen
HM Prison Aberdeen, known locally as Craiginches, was a controversial but pioneering prison located in Scotland’s third largest city. Opened in 1890 and closed in 2014, Aberdeen Prison saw its share of notable prisoners, extreme overcrowding issues, ambitious reforms programs and violent internal feuds throughout its 124 year history.
A Prison Takes Shape in Aberdeen
The very first prisoners stepped through the doors at HMP Aberdeen in 1890. In its early years, the prison consisted of an imposing granite structure enclosed by thick walls and formidable gates designed to keep prisoners securely inside.
Life inside those walls soon formed its own rough routines and rituals. The prisoners faced harsh conditions, cramped and crowded cells, basic food and the monotony of long days locked away from society. Most survived by keeping their heads down and doing their time as quietly as possible.
Infamous Inmates Do Their Time
Though early records remain scarce, a few infamous names stand out amongst the thousands of prisoners held in Aberdeen over the decades. Serial killer Peter Manuel, labelled the “Beast of Birkenshaw”, was held on remand in 1958. Gangster Henry John Burnett, the very last man executed in Scotland, met the hangman’s noose at Aberdeen Prison in 1963.
As the 20th century wore on, Aberdeen’s cells held their share of violent offenders, hardened gang members and notorious criminals from across Scotland. From modern monster Peter Tobin to bank robber Johnny Ramensky, they served their sentences walking the same cramped halls and exercise yards used since Victorian times.
Overcrowding and Drug Issues Festered
As Scotland’s prison population exploded in the 1990s and 2000s due to rampant drug use and stricter sentencing laws, Aberdeen Prison strained under a massive influx of new inmates. Built to house only 155 men, the daily population swelled as high as 264 in January 2009 according to one inspection report.
The prison population also became much more diverse during this period with inmates flooding in from London, Wolverhampton and across the UK. This led to even more internal tensions and made rehabilitation efforts difficult as rival gangs were mixed together in the crowded facility.
Ambitious Reforms Tried to Make Progress
By the 2000s, HMP Aberdeen tried to reform itself and pioneer progressive solutions to the problems facing modern prisons across the UK. An exceptional drug rehabilitation program won praise as did an initiative to give inmates access and training in using clean needles and harm reduction tools. The forward-thinking prison management even discussed a full needle exchange program.
A new substance abuse program called SROBP focused on having inmates examine their personal links between drug use and criminal behavior. Early results showed this program substantially reduced rates of reoffending after release. Bereavement support and counseling courses also assisted inmates struggling with grief and loss. Staff went to great lengths to humanize inmates tucked out of sight from society at large.
Internal Feuds Led to Chaos
However, the best efforts at reform were often overwhelmed by massive overcrowding and chronic understaffing as budgets were slashed. Violence became routine due to bored and idle prisoners stuffed 30 or 40 to a cell designed for far less. Hard drugs remained cheap and easier to score inside than out in the community.
Rival gangs turned Aberdeen into a battleground fueled by racial and regional feuds, vicious debt collection, elaborate extortion schemes and black markets supplying gambling, hooch and homebrewed alcohol. There seemed no easy answer to stabilizing such a diverse mix of inmates without expanding the hopelessly outdated facilities.
The FINAL Execution Haunts the Prison’s Legacy
In the end, HM Prison Aberdeen remains infamous for the gruesome final moments of Henry John Burnett – the last prisoner executed in Scotland’s history. Though his name is rarely spoken aloud anymore behind those imposing granite walls, the memory of his death still lingers like a ghost in the now empty corridors.
Perhaps it is fitting the doors finally closed on Scotland’s most notorious death row cell just months after the 50th anniversary of Burnett’s execution was observed in 2013. Both are permanently relegated to the history books now.
New Super Facility Merges Operations in Peterhead
Due to aging infrastructure and calls for modernization, HM Prison Aberdeen closed its doors for good in January 2014. Operations were consolidated into the new state-of-the-art HMP Grampian consolidating Aberdeen and Peterhead prisons onto one sprawling campus purpose built to house 500 inmates securely and with access to rehabilitation services.
Grampian’s opening saw almost all of Aberdeen’s remaining prisoners transferred out in chains and shackles onto buses bound for Peterhead 30 miles to the North. Though Peterhead prison retains the name Grampian, few see the new institution as continuing Aberdeen’s legacy. Instead most view its closure as the final chapter in HM Prison Aberdeen’s unique story.
What legacy does HM Prison Aberdeen leave behind?
Now a vacant lot awaiting buyers and developers, only ghosts and memories occupy 430 Grampian Place which once held so many troubled souls within its walls. Though new prisons grab headlines today with modern technologies and progressive agendas, we should not forget the lessons learned in Aberdeen.
From drastic overcrowding to aging facilities to security flaws that allowed rampant drug use and internal gang violence, our broken prison system requires more than just new buildings made of cement and steel. Ending the cycles that fill cells in the first place deserves our full attention. That is the most fitting tribute Scotland can offer to remember those who lived and died within HM Prison Aberdeen over its 124 turbulent years of operation.
What notable prisoners spent time in HMP Aberdeen?
Some of the most notorious inmates held at Aberdeen include serial killer Peter Manuel in the 1950s and gangster Henry John Burnett, the last prisoner executed in Scotland in 1963. Other infamous names held there were bank robber Johnny Ramensky and monster Peter Tobin.
How were conditions inside the aging prison?
As overcrowding became chronic in its last decades, Aberdeen saw inmates stuffed into cells at nearly double or triple the intended capacity. Cells meant for only a few men were forced to hold 30 or 40 at a time. This led to terrible sanitation issues and extreme tensions that resulted in violence.
What drug rehabilitation efforts did Aberdeen Prison pioneer?
Aberdeen implemented an “exceptional” drug rehab program and also introduced innovative harm reduction tools for inmates like clean needles and overdose prevention training. They had even proposed starting a full needle exchange program to reduce hepatitis and HIV transmission caused by sharing dirty needles in the drug-plagued facility.
Why did HMP Aberdeen ultimately close in 2014?
After increasing issues with overcrowding, infrastructure neglect, massive budget cuts and security flaws allowing violence and drug trafficking to flourish, the decision was made to close Aberdeen and transfer inmates to the newly built HMP Grampian with 500 beds and modern facilities purpose-built for rehabilitation efforts.
What legacy did HM Prison Aberdeen leave behind at its long-time location?
Many view the legacy of Aberdeen Prison as a warning about the festering issues facing aging facilities and mass incarceration policies without balancing rehabilitation efforts. Though Aberdeen tried pilot programs to curb addiction and violence issues, overcrowded jails with limited resources often institutionalize problems rather than fixing them long-term.