HM Prison Isis
HM Prison Isis, located in Thamesmead, London, is one of England’s newest correctional facilities. Having opened its doors in 2010, Isis has a short but tumultuous history thus far. As a Category C prison intended for young adult offenders, Isis was built to provide rehabilitation and skills training meant to reduce recidivism. However, the facility has faced its share of criticism and challenges over poor conditions, inmate violence, costs to taxpayers, and an overall lack of effectiveness in its stated goals.
History of HM Prison Isis
Planning and Construction
First conceived in 2009, HM Prison Isis was intended to provide needed space for an increasing prison population in London and southeast England. Built on previously unused land adjacent to the higher-security Belmarsh Prison, also in Thamesmead, Isis was constructed by Interserve under a £110 million government contract.
With a original design meant to accommodate up to 622 inmates, Isis was built to Category B security standards, despite its role as a lower-category C facility for young offenders aged 18-25. After a brief construction evacuation in 2009 due to discovery of an empty World War II shell casing on-site, the new prison facilities were completed and opened in April 2010.
Early Issues and Inspections
Even early in its operational history, Isis saw signs of trouble. A 2012 inspection report highlighted faulty security technology and poor relations between staff and inmates. While praising aspects like drug use prevention and self-harm reduction, inspectors worried about emerging gang culture. By early 2012, Isis’ governor admitted that gangs had taken root among the inmate population.
Facilities and Operations
Security Classification and Population
As a Category C Young Offenders Institution, HM Prison Isis houses male convicts aged 18-25 who are considered unlikely to make escape attempts. With capacity for up to 622 prisoners, Isis currently holds approximately 550 inmates.
Housing and Accommodations
Inmate living areas consist of both single and double-occupancy cells within two housing blocks. Shared facilities include an entry building, activities building containing educational spaces, a segregated holding unit, and indoor recreation areas.
Education and Training Programs
Isis offers vocational courses and workshops focused on mechanics, construction, recycling, media, and other basic job skills meant to aid offender re-entry post-release. Education partners like Kensington and Chelsea College provide classes onsite in subjects ranging from English to barbering.
Visitation and Family Support
The prison contains dedicated visitor facilities operated by the charity Spurgeons, which include supervised children’s areas. While vital for rehabilitation, the open visitation has contributed to issues with contraband smuggling.
Daily Life for Inmates
Typical Day Schedule
A typical day begins early with breakfast followed by work assignments, vocational courses, or education classes. Afternoons may involve recreation time, visits, counseling sessions, and other structured programming. Evenings are focused on housing lockdowns and head counts.
Rehabilitation and Support Services
In addition to formal education, Isis offers counseling, addiction treatment, and services meant to curb self-harm. Faith-based support is also available through the chaplaincy. Critics say such programs are under-utilized and underfunded.
Gangs and Contraband Issues
Gangs wield power through violence, intimidation, and the drug trade inside Isis. Weapons, drugs, phones, and other contraband goods find their way into the facility, causing ongoing security concerns, injuries, and deaths.
Impact and Controversies
Costs and Budget
From its £110 million construction tag to annual operating costs, critics say Isis has been a wasteful expense, especially given its failures to curb recidivism. Per-prisoner costs are above national averages.
Public Perception and Media Portrayals
Many Britons see Isis as a flawed, overly-cushy example of ineffective incarceration and rehabilitation. Sensationalist media stories contribute to its reputation as a “holiday camp” rather than serious correctional institution.
The Future of HM Prison Isis
Potential Expansion or Closures
Due to dropping inmate populations across England, there is chance Isis could face significant downsizing or closure within a decade, especially if conditions do not improve. There are no plans for expansion at this time.
Ongoing Challenges and Reforms
Isis remains plagued by violence, contraband, poor inmate-staff relations, and lack of rehabilitative progress. Advocates hope new leadership and programs can correct these deficiencies and make Isis a viable part of the English prison system rather than a lost cause.
While still in relative infancy as a correctional facility, HM Prison Isis has so far failed to achieve its mission and suffered from many predictable pitfalls of mismanagement and violence. Its future remains uncertain. With smart reforms and improved safety and security, Isis may yet establish itself as a functional Young Offenders Institution. But lack of public faith in the costly prison remains a huge obstacle.
Q: When was HM Prison Isis built?
A: HM Prison Isis was constructed between 2009-2010 at a cost of £110 million British pounds. It opened in April 2010.
Q: What is the typical daily schedule for an inmate at Isis?
A: A standard day at Isis consists of breakfast, work or education programs in the mornings, lunch, recreation time and/or classes/counseling in the afternoons, and locked down evenings focused on head counts and security checks.
Q: How does Isis Prison aim to rehabilitate its young inmates?
A: Isis offers educational courses, vocational skills training, addiction counseling, self-harm prevention services, chaplaincy support, and other targeted programming meant to reduce recidivism through rehabilitation.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges facing Isis Prison currently?
A: Ongoing issues include gang violence, smuggling of contraband, poor inmate-staff relations, high costs/overcrowding, and failure to reduce re-offending rates among former prisoners.
Q: Why has HM Prison Isis proven so controversial in the UK?
A: From high costs to build/operate to media allegations of being a “holiday camp”, Isis has faced public scorn. Further issues with deaths, violence, and lack of reform inside its walls fuel ongoing controversies.