HM Prison High Down
HM Prison High Down is a Category C men’s prison located just outside the town of Banstead in Surrey, England. Sitting on the southern fringe of Greater London, adjacent to Banstead Downs, High Down functions as a training and resettlement prison for male inmates approaching the end of their sentences.
With a long history dating back to 1992, when it was constructed on the grounds of a former hospital, High Down has developed into a significant institution within the wider English prison network. It houses over 1,200 prisoners, provides various facilities and programs focused on rehabilitation and skills training, and has been home to numerous high-profile convicts.
While not without its share of controversies and criticisms over the years, High Down continues to play an important role as a resettlement prison, assisting inmates with preparing for successful reintegration back into society upon release.
History and Background
Construction and Opening
HM Prison High Down was constructed in 1992 on a site formerly occupied by Banstead Hospital, situated on High Down Lane on the outskirts of Banstead, Surrey. The new prison facility was built due to increasing demand for prison space in the south of England in the early 1990s, as incarceration rates rose steadily during that era.
The new Category B local prison was opened by Her Majesty’s Prison Service in 1992, originally housing both remand and sentenced inmates. High Down was the first new prison built in London or the South East of England in over 100 years.
Early Years and Operations
In its early years of operation throughout the 1990s, High Down took on a key role within the region’s prison system. As well as housing remand prisoners awaiting trial or sentencing, it also accommodated sentenced prisoners, including some nearing the end of longer sentences before release.
The prison population grew quickly in the 1990s, reaching over 1,000 inmates within its first decade. This growth put pressure on facilities and conditions at High Down. The prison also saw some unrest and disturbances among prisoners in these early years.
Facilities and Operations Today
Security Category and Purpose
Today, HM Prison High Down serves as a Category C male training and resettlement prison. This means it houses male prisoners classified as having a lower security risk and nearing the end of their sentences.
The prison’s main purpose now is to facilitate the rehabilitation and preparation of prisoners for successful community reintegration upon release. High Down aims to provide purposeful activity, training and employment opportunities for inmates during their final sentence stage.
High Down has an operational capacity of around 1,208 male prisoners, making it a large prison facility within the British prison system. The site contains a mix of single, double and dormitory-style prisoner accommodation across six main residential housing blocks.
Facilities and Programs
The prison offers various facilities and programs focused on rehabilitation including:
Accommodation and Living Conditions
Inmates are able to wear their own clothes rather than uniforms and have access to showers, telephones and amenities on each cell block. Efforts have been made to improve accommodation conditions from the early overcrowded days.
Healthcare and Wellbeing Services
Comprehensive healthcare, mental health and substance abuse treatment services are available within the prison through partnerships with public health providers.
Education and Vocational Training
Education and vocational skills training opportunities are offered to help prepare prisoners for employment after release. These include workshops, classes and job skills programs.
Work and Employment Opportunities
Prison work programs and jobs aim to provide inmates with meaningful employment experience and income generation while incarcerated, including facility maintenance, cleaning and food preparation roles.
The prison’s inmate football team made headlines in 2010 when they played a friendly match against professional League Two side Wycombe Wanderers FC, losing 8-0. While heavily defeated, the match represented a rare opportunity for prisoners to take part in a high-profile sporting event.
The Clink Restaurant
In 2012, High Down opened ‘The Clink’ restaurant within its walls, becoming the first UK prison to contain a public commercial restaurant operated by inmates. The fine-dining restaurant allows prisoners to gain hospitality industry skills and experience that improve employment prospects upon release.
High Profile Prisoners
Given its location and security classification, High Down has housed a number of high profile and celebrity prisoners over the years including former politicians, sports stars and media personalities convicted of various offences.
Some renowned inmates have included former pop singer Gary Glitter, convicted in 2015 on child sex offences, and former English cricketer Chris Lewis, jailed in 2009 for drug smuggling. Their presence demonstrates High Down’s important role in handling conviction and rehabilitation of public figures within the wider justice system.
Impact and Significance
Role in the Prison System
As a training and resettlement prison, High Down provides an important transitional function, bridging the gap between incarceration and release for inmates approaching the end of sentences. Its rehabilitative focus assists prisoners with successful re-entry into society.
Controversies and Criticisms
However, High Down has experienced its share of controversies and criticisms over the three decades of operations. Concerns have been raised at various times regarding overcrowding, deteriorating conditions, lack of access to programs and inadequate staffing levels potentially undermining rehabilitation efforts.
Future Development Plans
Prison management have announced plans for additional investment and upgrades to facilities and services in coming years to further enhance High Down’s resettlement role. A new offender management unit and extra accommodation are among proposals under consideration to expand the prison’s capacity and capabilities going forward.
In summary, while not without its problems, HM Prison High Down has developed into an important institution within the English correctional system since opening in 1992. Its focus on providing training and preparation for prisoner resettlement plays a valuable role in the rehabilitation process and in reducing reoffending after release. Despite past controversies, the prison’s future focus on enhancing its facilities and expanding services aims to cement its place as a leading resettlement centre into the future.
Q1: When was HM Prison High Down constructed?
A1: It was constructed in 1992 on the former site of Banstead Hospital in Surrey.
Q2: What type of prison is High Down today?
A2: It is now a Category C male prison focused on training and resettlement of inmates approaching release.
Q3: What is the operational capacity of the prison?
A3: It has capacity for around 1,208 male prisoners.
Q4: What facilities and programs does the prison offer?
A4: It offers facilities and programs focused on skills training, education, employment experience, healthcare and rehabilitation.
Q5: What notable inmates have been held at High Down?
A5: Notable prisoners have included musician Gary Glitter and former English cricketer Chris Lewis.