HM Prison Aylesbury
Nestled in the market town of Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire, HM Prison Aylesbury has a long and storied history. As one of the oldest operational prisons in the United Kingdom, it has undergone many changes and challenges over the past 175 years. From its beginnings as a county gaol in the mid-19th century to its current status as a category C male prison, Aylesbury has housed a wide variety of inmate populations and operated under different security standards.
Today, Aylesbury holds just under 400 adult male prisoners aged 18-40. It serves primarily as a training prison, aiming to provide vocational courses and rehabilitation programs to its inmates. However, the prison has faced criticism at times for inmate welfare issues, disturbances, and its Victorian-era facilities. Aylesbury’s presence has also had both positive and negative impacts on the local community. As the prison continues evolving in the 21st century, many wonder what the future holds for this historic institution.
Early Years as a County Gaol
The need for a proper prison in Aylesbury was recognized in the early 19th century, as prior to 1810 the town relied on its small town gaol to house inmates. Construction began on the current site in 1847, modeled after Reading County Gaol. The prison was built in the Victorian style popular at the time, favoring function over comfort.
For its first 40 years, Aylesbury served as the county gaol for Buckinghamshire. It held inmates convicted of crimes locally, including poachers, thieves, and murderers. Conditions were unpleasant in this early era, with poor hygiene, inadequate diet, and harsh discipline the norm. The gaol was crowded, holding both men and women. Executions were occasionally carried out on-site.
Transition to a Women’s Prison
In 1890, Aylesbury was converted from a county gaol to an adult women’s prison. This was part of wider reforms improving conditions for female inmates across the UK. A nursing sister was brought in to oversee the health of prisoners. The women learned useful domestic skills like laundry work, sewing, and housekeeping as part of their rehabilitation.
For several decades, Aylesbury functioned as one of the main prisons for women in southern England. Notable inmates included suffragettes who were imprisoned for political activism. The era of housing women ended in the 1930s.
Conversion to a Boys’ Borstal
Reflecting trends toward more juvenile reform rather than harsh punishment, Aylesbury transitioned to a boys’ borstal in the 1930s. This was part of the borstal system designed to give young offenders work training and education.
Young men from age 16 to 21 were transferred to Aylesbury to serve their sentences. They received trade skills training, exercised, attended class, and worked on projects designed to instill discipline and order. The borstal system, though an improvement, still relied on strict governance and corporal punishment.
Return to an Adult Male Prison
In the late 1950s, Aylesbury returned to its original purpose as an adult male prison. This was short lived however, as in 1961 it transitioned to holding young male offenders from age 18-21. The 1960s saw wider efforts in the UK prison system to separate younger inmates, recognizing their unique needs.
As a young offenders institute, Aylesbury offered more tailored rehabilitation programs. Educational opportunities increased, workshop training continued, and overall conditions improved during this period. However, it still operated as a strict and highly regimented institution.
Becoming a Male Young Offenders Institute
The next major transition came in 1989 when Aylesbury formally became HM Prison Aylesbury, a young offenders institute holding males age 18-25. Overcrowding in the prison system drove the change, consolidating younger inmates in certain facilities.
Aylesbury continues on today as a young offenders institute for adult men, taking in first-time and repeat offenders from across the region. The average age of prisoners is 21. Educational and vocational programs aim to give them skills to prevent reoffending after release.
Facilities and Operation
Prison Layout and Accommodation
The prison resides on a rectangular tract of land near the center of Aylesbury. It has historic brick perimeter walls topped with fences and barbed wire. Inside the compound are seven multi-story cell blocks built over time. The Victorian era cell blocks have thick brick walls and bars on small windows. A Segregation Unit houses difficult inmates.
In total, HMP Aylesbury can accommodate 402 inmates. The majority are housed in single cells of the cell blocks, with shared showers and recreation areas per unit. Cells contain a bed, toilet, sink, and cabinet for possessions. Prisoners spend much of their day locked in their cells.
Education and Vocational Training Opportunities
A major emphasis at Aylesbury is providing education and skills training to prisoners. There is a school area with classrooms, computer lab, library, and teaching kitchen. Instructors offer courses in basic literacy and maths, IT skills, English, art, sociology, foreign languages, and more.
The prison has workshops for vocational programs including construction trades, auto mechanics, cleaning services, catering, gardening, and agriculture. These aim to give inmates employment skills for use after release. There are also courses leading to qualifications that improve job prospects.
Work and Rehabilitation Programs
In addition to formal education, prisoners are expected to work while serving their sentences. Many are assigned daily job duties needed to operate the prison, like kitchen work, laundry, cleaning, and maintenance. These provide a structured routine and income through prison wages.
Rehabilitative programs focus on developing life skills, managing anger, coping with addiction, and preparing for release. Group counseling sessions, behavior therapy, addiction treatment, and individual mentoring are some offerings. Motivational programs like the Duke of Edinburgh Award also encourage inmates to achieve goals.
Staff and Administration
The prison has over 200 staff operating in roles like guards, support services, healthcare, education, maintenance, and administration. The Governor oversees operations. A team of managers see to discipline, welfare, programs, and facilities needs. Guards and officers maintain order and supervise inmates’ daily activities. External contractors provide healthcare, drug treatment, and other services. Oversight is provided by Her Majesty’s Prison Services.
Disturbances and Protests
As with any prison, Aylesbury has seen its share of disorder and disruptions over the decades. Tensions often boil over into destructive riots or protests against conditions. In 2008, inmates caused significant damage during Eid celebrations turned into a riot quelled by police and special teams. Another riot broke out in 2018 injuring guards. Self-harm and suicide attempts also require frequent emergency response.
Controversies and Scandals
There has been no shortage of controversies at Aylesbury. Investigations exposed poor medical care, unsanitary conditions, inadequate staffing, and self-harm epidemics at various points.
In 2001, the Muslim chaplain was fired for controversial remarks following 9/11. A female guard made headlines in 2009 when imprisoned for smuggling contraband after having sex with an inmate resulting in pregnancy. The prison has reputation for gang issues and drug trafficking.
Prison Population and Conditions
The prison currently holds around 395 adult men between ages 18-40. About 60% are white, 25% black, 10% Asian, and 5% other ethnicities. Most are younger than age 25 and serving sentences under 10 years. Over half come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Drug and violence related crimes are most common convictions.
Daily Routine and Regimen
Prisoners at Aylesbury follow a highly regimented schedule designed to control behavior. They are woken around 7 AM for breakfast then locked in cells. Morning head count precedes work or education programs. Lunch and dinner are served on a strict timeline. Locked in cells by 7:30 PM. Free time is limited. Movements are monitored and privileges like recreation time earned through good behavior.
Physical and Mental Health Provisions
Basic medical care is provided on-site via doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, and a small infirmary. Serious medical issues are treated at outside hospitals. Mental health services include counseling and prescription medication. However, long waiting lists and lack of resources hamper care quality according to critics.
Self-Harm and Violence Issues
Self-harm remains an ongoing issue at Aylesbury. While improved from past eras, inmates still exhibit higher than average rates of self-harming behaviors like cutting according to inspection reports. Prisoner on prisoner assaults also occur, sometimes gang related. Weapons fashioned from everyday items are seized regularly. Stringent security measures aim to keep violence in check.
Impact on the Local Community
With a large staff, Aylesbury Prison provides steady jobs for hundreds of local residents. Nearby businesses like restaurants and shops benefit from employee spending. The prison contracts local construction, maintenance, healthcare, and other services generating indirect revenue. Real estate values are impacted by the prison’s proximity however, a concern for some homeowners.
Social and Cultural Influences
The presence of a prison unavoidably influences the surrounding community socially and culturally. Some view the prison positively as an historic local institution providing rehabilitation for youth. Others see it negatively as a reminder of crime and punishment. Local charities and schools sometimes interact with inmates for outreach programs. But stereotypes about prisoners persisting after release also cause social stigmas.
The Future of the Prison
Proposed Changes and Reforms
With an aging, Victorian-era design, many argue Aylesbury is in need of significant modernization. Recommendations from prison reform advocates include improving living conditions, updating facilities, reducing overcrowding, increasing staffing, and expanding programs. Converting Aylesbury to a drug rehabilitation center rather than youth prison has also been suggested.
Challenges and Opportunities
Significant challenges lie ahead for HMP Aylesbury. Controlling self-harm, reducing reoffending rates, and preparing inmates for successful release are perennial issues. Budget constraints from the nationwide economic downturn may limit reform efforts. But with strong local partnerships and renewed focus on rehabilitation over punishment, the future could be bright for turning around young lives.
HM Prison Aylesbury has undergone dramatic transformations since its start as a rudimentary county gaol 175 years ago. Periods as a women’s institution, boys’ borstal, and now young adult training center reflected changing societal views on incarceration, punishment, and reform over the decades.
While still facing endemic challenges today, the prison’s focus on vocational training, skills building, and rehabilitation programs aims to give young inmates a second chance at productive lives after release. With potential modernization on the horizon, Aylesbury stands poised to write its next chapter as an innovative, progressive institution that makes a real difference in people’s lives and the local community.
What type of facility is HM Prison Aylesbury today?
HM Prison Aylesbury is currently a Category C male prison holding convicted young adult males ages 18-40, primarily serving as a youth offenders institute.
How many inmates are housed at Aylesbury?
The operational capacity is around 400 prisoners. Currently about 395 inmates are housed there as of early 2023.
What are conditions like at Aylesbury?
As an aging Victorian facility, conditions are quite poor compared to modern prisons. Inmates are housed in small, austere single cells. Self-harm and violence have been issues. However, the prison aims to provide purpose through work, education, and rehabilitation programs.
What services are offered to prisoners at Aylesbury?
Prisoners have access to basic education like math and English classes, workshops to learn vocational trades, counseling and drug addiction treatment, and structured work duties to operate the prison. Some can pursue academic courses leading to qualifications.
Has Aylesbury faced any major scandals or controversies?
Yes, there have been several over the long history of the prison. Recent issues include inmate protests turning into riots, contraband smuggling by staff, inmate self-harm epidemics, gang violence, and various allegations of mismanagement.