hm prison barlinnie

HM Prison Barlinnie

HMP Barlinnie is Scotland’s largest prison and one steeped in history and infamy. Located in the Riddrie area of Glasgow, it has housed some of the country’s most dangerous criminals and gangsters over the past 140 years. From harsh conditions and experimental rehab programs to executions and violent inmates, Barlinnie has seen it all. But what does the future hold for this aging Victorian facility?

History and Origins

The origins of HMP Barlinnie date back to 1882, when it first opened under the design of Major General Thomas Bernard Collinson. Constructed in the then-rural area of Riddrie near the Monkland Canal, its early years saw the first blocks built in a piecemeal fashion to deal with overcrowding at other Glasgow prisons.

Design and Construction

Barlinnie was designed specifically to hold large numbers of prisoners. The original plans called for five main accommodation halls, labeled A-E, each holding around 69 inmates. The halls were constructed and commissioned successively over 15 years from 1882 to 1897.

Early Years and Expansions

After the initial piecemeal construction of prisoner blocks A-E, Barlinnie saw its first major expansion in 1967. Additional buildings were erected to create a dedicated industrial workshop compound for inmates. This allowed convicts to engage in menial labor like carpentry, sewing, and handicrafts.

The Notorious Special Unit

From 1973 to 1994, Barlinnie was home to the groundbreaking Special Unit – an experimental cell block focused on closely rehabilitating violent prisoners. This unit achieved fame thanks to some high-profile success cases, like the reform of Glasgow gangster Jimmy Boyle.

See also  HM Prison Doncaster

Focus on Rehabilitation

The Special Unit emphasized intensive rehabilitation programs over punishment. Creative cultural pursuits like writing, theater, sculpture, and painting were key parts of its methodology. Prisoners produced acclaimed literary works reflecting on their criminal pasts.

Jimmy Boyle’s Reform

The most famous alumnus of the Special Unit was convicted murderer and gang enforcer Jimmy Boyle. After his release, Boyle became an acclaimed novelist and sculptor – seen as clear evidence of the Unit’s ability to reform violent offenders through art.

Capital Punishment at Barlinnie

In its early years, Barlinnie acted as the key site for judicial executions in Scotland. From 1946 to 1960, the prison saw 10 hangings carried out before capital punishment was finally abolished for murder.

Executions from 1946-1960

All executions occurred by hanging at 8am in Barlinnie’s infamous gallows cell. Notable inmates condemned here included gangster Peter Manuel and infamous killer Patrick Carraher. The remains of the executed were buried in unmarked graves within the prison walls until later re-interment in 1997.

Barlinnie Today

Today, much of the Victorian-era Barlinnie complex still stands and remains Scotland’s largest prison. It currently houses between 1300-1600 inmates despite an official capacity of just 987.

Current Capacity and Use

As well as long-term prisoners, modern Barlinnie deals with remand, new convictions, and those sentenced to less than 4 years. Convicted prisoners are often transferred here temporarily before allocation to lower security jails around Scotland.

Recent Refurbishments and Conditions

In recent decades, Barlinnie has seen attempts to modernize and improve intolerable conditions. Cells have been refurbished from 1997-2004, along with new admin buildings and visitor facilities. However, critics argue it remains overcrowded and substandard. The practice of ‘slopping out’ buckets for toilets continued here until around 2003.

See also  HMP Grampian

End of “Slopping Out” Buckets

“Slopping out” saw inmates use a bucket in their cells as a toilet, which they manually emptied each day – often putting them at risk of assault when unlocked from cells. The practice ended after decades of pressure from Scottish prison inspectors and human rights advocates.

The Future of Barlinnie

Barlinnie’s ageing infrastructure has seen calls for its closure as unfit for the demands of a modern prison system. In 2018, the Scottish Government announced plans to close HMP Barlinnie and replace it entirely with a modern “superjail”.

Proposed Closure and Replacement

In 2018, proposals were put forward to close Barlinnie within 5 years. A dedicated new mega-prison would be constructed elsewhere in Glasgow to act as a centralized hub for the area and allow upgraded prisoner accommodation.

Preserving Its History

However, many advocates have called for Barlinnie’s Victorian-era blocks to be preserved as a historic monument rather than demolished after closure. Turning parts of the prison into a dedicated museum has been suggested to celebrate Barlinnie’s unique place in Scotland’s social history.

Notable Former Inmates

Alongside some already mentioned, Barlinnie has imprisoned many of Glasgow and Scotland’s most notorious criminals, gangsters and wrongdoers over the decades.

Glasgow Underworld Figures

As one of Scotland’s main remand prisons, many key figures linked to Glasgow’s criminal underworld have spent time incarcerated behind Barlinnie’s walls.

Paul Ferris

Former gang enforcer Paul Ferris is one of Glasgow’s most infamous convicted murders. He spent several years imprisoned in Barlinnie in the 1980s and 90s at the height of his underworld infamy.

Hugh Collins

Known as Scotland’s “most dangerous prisoner’, convicted murderer Hugh Collins killed inmates and assaulted guards during his stint in Barlinnie. He later became an author and sculptor, marrying Caroline McNairn in 2011 while still incarcerated.

See also  Latchmere House

Other Infamous Prisoners

Beyond the Glasgow underworld, Barlinnie has hosted a rogue’s gallery of notorious Scottish prisoners from all walks of crime and murder.

Peter Manuel

1950s serial killer Peter Manuel was confined in Barlinnie before his eventual execution by hanging in 1958. Manuel was believed to have killed at least 9 victims across Lanarkshire in the post-war period.

Abdelbaset al-Megrahi

Barlinnie briefly held Abdelbaset al-Megrahi – the only man ever convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie terrorist bombing. He was imprisoned breifly while awaiting trial, before being released to Libya in 2009 on compassionate grounds.

Tommy Sheridan

Disgraced former MSP Tommy Sheridan was held here after being convicted of perjury during his infamous 2010 trial involving sex scandal claims and an accusation of swinging.


For over 140 years, HMP Barlinnie has cast an imposing shadow over Glasgow as Scotland’s toughest and most storied prison. It has witnessed condemned men’s last moments as well as innovative attempts at turning around violent lives. While its future may be in doubt, Barlinnie’s place in Scottish history is assured. Its closure will mark the end of an era.


What is the current capacity of HMP Barlinnie?

The current capacity of HMP Barlinnie is listed as 987 inmates. However, most estimates put the actual current population between 1300-1600 prisoners.

When was the practice of ‘slopping out’ buckets finally ended in Barlinnie?

The practice of ‘slopping out’ ended around 2003 after years of pressure over the degrading conditions it caused inmates in overcrowded facilities like Barlinnie.

How many executions were carried out at Barlinnie until their abolition?

10 judicial executions by hanging took place at HMP Barlinnie between 1946 and 1960, when the death penalty was abolished for murder in Great Britain.

Which famous Glasgow gangster became a sculptor after release from Barlinnie’s Special Unit?

Jimmy Boyle became an acclaimed author and sculptor after his intensive rehabilitation process in Barlinnie Special Unit. He was previously an enforcer for infamous Glasgow gang boss Arthur Thompson Sr.

What year did the Scottish Government announce plans to close and replace HMP Barlinnie?

In 2018 the Scottish Prison Service announced proposals to close the aging HMP Barlinnie facility within 5 years and replace it with a modern ‘superjail’ in Glasgow.

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