hm prison kingston

HM Prison Kingston

HMP Kingston has a long and varied history in the English prison system. Originally constructed in 1877 as a Victorian radial design prison, HMP Kingston was built to house inmates and implement Victorian ideals of punishment and reform. In its early years, HMP Kingston had several different uses, including as a boys’ borstal and as a police station during World War II. Despite periodic changes in purpose, the prison maintained its radial layout with cell blocks stemming outwards like the spokes of a wheel from the main observation point. This design was meant to allow guards to easily monitor inmates.

Conversion to Life Sentence Prison

In 1965, HMP Kingston underwent a major transition, as capital punishment was abolished in Britain and the prison became exclusively used for housing male inmates serving life sentences. To accommodate this specific population, HMP Kingston added a dedicated unit for elderly male life sentence prisoners, the first of its kind in England and Wales. However, while the reputation of HMP Kingston became tied to its population of lifers, overcrowding and inadequate facilities were constant issues.

Conditions and Controversies

HMP Kingston gained notoriety for frequent controversies regarding the poor conditions for its aging life sentence population. In April 2003, a report condemned the elderly prisoner unit as providing unacceptable standards, with restricted movement, insufficient privacy, poor lighting and ventilation, and inadequate power and facilities. This reflected broader struggles with deteriorating infrastructure and overcrowding as inmate populations outgrew the antiquated Victorian design.

Redesignation as Category B/C Prison

In response to criticism over conditions for elderly inmates, HMP Kingston subsequently transitioned away from exclusively housing life sentence prisoners. The elderly prisoner unit moved to HMP Norwich while HMP Kingston became a more general Category B and C prison with a more varied inmate population. However, problems of institutional age and outdated design continued to plague operations.

See also  HM Prison Peterborough

Life at HMP Kingston

Inmate Demographics

As a Category B/C prison with a high proportion of life sentence inmates, HMP Kingston housed a challenging cross-section of the prison population. Most inmates were male, generally ranging from youthful first-time offenders to lifers growing old behind bars. Gang affiliations added further complications to the mix of non-violent offenders and those convicted of serious violent crimes. Guards and administrators had to constantly balance rehabilitation and security across this diverse inmate demographic.

Daily Routine and Regulations

A typical day for an HMP Kingston inmate involved a highly regimented schedule with strict rules and limitations on behavior and privileges. Inmates were expected to wake and eat meals at set times, then proceed to work assignments, education courses, workshops, exercise yards, or other activities as permitted. Free time was minimal, movement was limited, and infractions often resulted in further restrictions or disciplinary action. The aging facilities also meant frequent maintenance issues that disrupted prison operations.

Education and Work Programs

HMP Kingston did seek to provide education and vocational opportunities to engage inmates and prepare them for life after release. Prison work assignments included facility maintenance, kitchen duties, cleaning, waste management, gardening, and shop work. The prison offered basic educational courses focused on math, English, and life skills, but lacked capacity for more advanced vocational training. Overcrowding placed strains on these rehabilitation programs.

Healthcare and Mental Health Services

With a large elderly and life sentence population, HMP Kingston had a responsibility to provide healthcare ranging from general practice to end-of-life hospice care. However, services were limited by constrained resources and facilities. Mental health support was particularly lacking, despite high rates of mental illness among inmates. Critics argued the prison neglected holistic approaches to address addiction, trauma, and recidivism among the inmate population.

Visitation and Communication

Opportunities for visitation and communication with loved ones were intermittent due to the prison’s limited facilities. Visitors could be turned away if arrival procedures were not strictly followed. Phone calls were constrained by schedules and time limits. This lack of consistent family contact took a psychological toll on inmates, especially lifelong convicts estranged from relatives.

Notorious Inmates of HMP Kingston

Serial Killers

HMP Kingston housed some of England’s most notorious serial killer inmates, including doctor-turned-murderer Archibald Hall and Anthony Sawoniuk, convicted for murdering Jews during World War II. These violent offenders spent decades confined in HMP Kingston. Their infamous reputations contributed to the prison’s image as a bleak home for the nation’s most dangerous lifelong convicts.

See also  Old Gaol, Abingdon

War Criminals

In addition to serial killers, HMP Kingston became known for incarcerating convicted war criminals. Anthony Sawoniuk, an elderly inmate revealed to have participated in war crimes against Jewish civilians during WWII, joined other infamous human rights violators held at the prison. This further emphasized the prison’s secondary role as a warehouse for aging inmates ostracized by society.

Gang Members

As HMP Kingston transitioned to hold more general Category B and C inmates, prison gang culture became an issue. Groups of organized career criminals like the notorious M25 Three, convicted of armed robbery, posed disciplinary challenges. Gang-affiliated inmates were potentially volatile and required constant surveillance to prevent violence and maintain control.

Impact on the Local Community

Economic Effects

As a major employer for the Portsmouth region, HMP Kingston’s closure in 2013 impacted the local economy. The loss of jobs at the prison itself along with the economic activity generated by visitors reduced spending and employment in the community. However, the redevelopment of the prison site is expected to eventually offset these losses.

Changing Public Perceptions

Over its long history, public attitudes towards HMP Kingston transformed along with its shifting inmate population and conditions. Initially seen as a reformist institution, it developed an infamy around housing the nation’s most notorious killers and elderly lifers. Its closure created mixed feelings for local residents.

Preserving Local History

Though many saw HMP Kingston as a blight, it formed part of the identity of the Kingston community as generations lived in its shadow. As redevelopment begins, local heritage groups have advocated for preserving artifacts and parts of the prison to represent its complex legacy. There are hopes of incorporating a museum about its history.

The Complex Legacy of HMP Kingston

Improving Prison Conditions

While HMP Kingston gained notoriety for inmate controversies and poor conditions, its closure ultimately highlighted the need for investment in modernized, humane prisons as the Victorian-era structures declined. Its elderly units, though inadequate, influenced wider adoption of specialized care for aging lifers.

Evaluating Community Benefits

As local residents grapple with HMP Kingston’s closure, it provides an opportunity to re-examine the role prisons play in communities. Though often seen as undesirable blight, the economic benefits and employment opportunities of institutions like HMP Kingston must be weighed against their disruptive effects.

See also  HM Prison Huntercombe

Remembering a Notorious Past

HMP Kingston’s legacy will be defined by its high-profile inmates like serial killers and war criminals. But it is also important to remember the struggles of day-to-day inmates simply seeking rehabilitation. The voices of all those affected by HMP Kingston should contribute to collective remembrance.

The Future of the Kingston Prison Site

Housing Redevelopment Plans

With its closure, HMP Kingston’s 19th century panopticon structure is slated to be transformed into modern apartment housing, erasing visible remnants of its past. However, incorporating elements of the prison into the community’s future through memorials could provide connection to heritage.

Community Feedback and Concerns

As plans develop, residents have provided feedback on preserving historic aspects of the prison. Concerns have also focused on maintaining the character of the surrounding community. Balancing redevelopment with local history and context will be crucial.

Potential for Innovation and Growth

Beyond simply replacing the prison, reimagining the Kingston site offers opportunities for new community-centered spaces. Proposals suggest everything from parks to cultural centers that improve quality of life. This next chapter in the site’s long history can uplift the community.


The intended reforms of HMP Kingston ultimately succumbed to age, outdated design, and lack of investment over its 136 years of operation. But in its closure, lessons can be learned about the responsibility of prisons to both inmates and the wider community. As HMP Kingston is redeveloped, preserving memorials to its complex past honors those profound human experiences while enabling progress. The Kingston community now has a canvas to paint a brighter future.


  1. Why did HMP Kingston close?

HMP Kingston closed in 2013 due to its outdated Victorian infrastructure and facilities that were inadequate and overcrowded as inmate populations outgrew the original design. Its closure was part of a wider initiative by the Ministry of Justice to shutter aging prisons.

  1. What problems did HMP Kingston have?

As a Victorian-era panopticon prison, HMP Kingston faced issues with overcrowding, lack of facilities, and inability to provide services like healthcare and rehabilitation programs to inmates. It gained particular notoriety for poor conditions in units for elderly prisoners.

  1. What will replace HMP Kingston?

The former prison site is being redeveloped into modern apartment housing and community facilities. However, there are also proposals to incorporate some elements of the prison into the new community as historical memorials.

  1. Who were some famous inmates held at HMP Kingston?

Some of Britain’s most notorious criminals were held at HMP Kingston, including serial killers like doctor Harold Shipman, gang members like the M25 Three, and war criminals like Anthony Sawoniuk.

  1. How did HMP Kingston affect the surrounding community?

As a major local employer for over a century, HMP Kingston’s closure negatively impacted the local economy. But some residents also viewed the prison as an unwelcome blight and are hopeful its redevelopment will uplift the community.

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