HM Prison Askham Grange
HM Prison Askham Grange holds a unique place in the British prison system as the first open women’s prison in the country. Located in the village of Askham Richard in North Yorkshire, Askham Grange has pioneered approaches to rehabilitating and reintegrating female inmates since it opened its doors in 1947.
A Long History of Innovation
Askham Grange has a long and storied history of innovation in its approach to incarcerating women. Let’s take a look back at how this groundbreaking institution has evolved over the decades.
Blazing a Trail as the First Open Women’s Prison
When Askham Grange was first opened in January 1947, it broke new ground as the very first open women’s prison in the United Kingdom. This meant that inmates were not kept locked up continuously, allowing greater freedom of movement and responsibility compared to traditional closed prisons. The first Governor, Mary Size, was a forward-thinking penal reformer who set the tone for Askham Grange’s rehabilitative approach.
Pioneering Rehabilitation Programs in the 70s and 80s
In the 1970s and 80s, Askham Grange continued to pioneer new rehabilitation initiatives under reform-minded leadership. Governor Susan McCormick introduced revolutionary reintegration programs to help inmates transition back into society upon release, which were uncommon at the time. The theatre company Clean Break was also founded at Askham Grange in 1979, providing arts education and support for incarcerated women.
A Progressive Model Entering the 21st Century
More recent decades have seen Askham Grange cement its status as a model for progressive women’s incarceration. In the 90s it was the subject of a groundbreaking documentary about mothers in prison. In the 2000s, inmates launched legal battles to keep their children with them, fueling debate about mothers’ rights behind bars. Askham Grange continues adapting its programs to provide skills and support for female prisoners.
Daily Life for Inmates
Askham Grange maintains an environment distinct from traditional prisons. Here’s an inside look at what daily life looks like for its residents.
A Unique Population and Regime
Askham Grange houses adult women and young female offenders who are completing the final years of long sentences. The prison has an open, rehabilitative regime. Inmates live mainly in dormitories and have access to greater freedoms than closed prisons. There is also a special Mother and Baby Unit for up to ten women to care for their children full-time while incarcerated.
Extensive Facilities Tailored to Women
In addition to resident housing, the prison offers facilities tailored specifically to female inmates. There is an education department focusing on vocational skills such as barista training that provide marketable skills post-release. The prison also operates an external Garden Centre, Coffee Shop, and Conference Centre where inmates can gain real-world work experience.
Work Placements and Education for Life on the Outside
A key part of inmates’ daily routine is participating in external work placements that ease the eventual transition back into society. These, along with classes offered on site by the education department, aim to equip women with practical life and job skills for building successful futures upon release.
Controversies and Well-Known Prisoners
While generally seen as a model facility, Askham Grange has dealt with its share of controversies and housed some notorious inmates over the years.
Legal Battles and Progressive Debates
Some of Askham Grange’s forward-thinking policies have sparked legal battles and debates. In the 2000s two inmates launched a high-profile but unsuccessful court case for the right to keep their babies past 18 months. While they lost, the case ignited discussion about mothers’ rights in prison.
Infamous Inmates Like Mary Bell and Tracie Andrews
Askham Grange has housed several well-known convicted criminals. Mary Bell, an infamous child murderer, served some of the latter part of her sentence at Askham Grange. More recently, Tracie Andrews who murdered her fiancé was imprisoned there.
National Significance and Lasting Impact
Despite controversies, Askham Grange remains a nationally important prison making a lasting impact on female incarceration.
Rehabilitative Approach Sets Example for Reintegration
With its specialized rehabilitative programming, Askham Grange sets the standard in the UK for helping incarcerated women successfully reintegrate into society upon release. Its pioneering education, vocation, and employment initiatives aim to reduce recidivism.
A Beacon for Progressive Women’s Imprisonment
As the first women’s open prison in the country, Askham Grange has served as an influential model for reimagining women’s incarceration in a more progressive, rehabilitative, and gender-responsive light. Its innovations have shaped the trajectory of women’s prisons across the nation.
For over 75 years, HM Prison Askham Grange has pioneered new approaches to incarcerating women in the British prison system. As the first open women’s prison in the UK, it has modeled more progressive policies and rehabilitative programs that have impacted institutions nationwide. Though not without controversy, Askham Grange remains a symbol of forward-thinking imprisonment focused on reintegration, rehabilitation, skills training, and women’s unique needs. It continues to innovate and provide opportunities to female inmates to this day.
- When was HM Prison Askham Grange first opened?HM Prison Askham Grange first opened in January 1947 as the first open women’s prison in the United Kingdom.
- What kinds of inmates are housed at Askham Grange?Askham Grange houses adult women and young female offenders, typically those completing the final portion of long sentences and preparing for re-entry into society.
- What makes Askham Grange unique from other women’s prisons?Its open regime provides inmates much greater freedom of movement than closed prisons. It also offers specialized rehabilitative programming focusing on skills for employment and reintegration post-release.
- What notable prisoners have been jailed at Askham Grange?Some high-profile prisoners include child murderer Mary Bell in the 1970s and Tracie Andrews who killed her fiancé in more recent years.
- Why is Askham Grange seen as pioneering for women’s prisons?As the first open women’s prison in the UK, it served as an early model for more progressive, rehabilitative imprisonment focused on vocational training, re-entry support, and gender-specific programs. Its innovations have shaped women’s corrections.