HM Prison Kirkham
HMP Kirkham is a fascinating example of an open Category D men’s prison located in Lancashire, England. With origins as an RAF base, Kirkham has a rich history of training and rehabilitating its residents. Today, Kirkham focuses on education and work programs to help prisoners positively contribute to society after release. However, the open prison environment has also resulted in challenges with absconding and drugs over the years. The keys to Kirkham’s future will be balancing its open approach with measures to ensure effective monitoring and rehabilitation.
History and Origins
The land that Kirkham Prison currently occupies has served multiple important purposes over the last century. Initially built up in 1939 as RAF Kirkham, the base trained over 70,000 British and Allied service members during World War 2. RAF Kirkham had extensive infrastructure including hangers, a cinema, and hospital on its large 220 acre site. After the war, the base transitioned to training RAF recruits until its closure in 1957.
In the early 1960s, part of the vacant RAF base was taken over by the Home Office to be converted into the open HMP Kirkham. Today, many of the buildings and facilities still in use were constructed during the RAF era over 60 years ago. The prison officially opened in 1962, utilizing much of the existing infrastructure to house its open prison environment.
Facilities and Operations
As an open prison, Kirkham has a very different environment compared to a traditional closed prison. The prisoner accommodation consists predominantly of dormitory and single room billets where inmates have keys to their own rooms. There are currently facilities to house over 600 prisoners.
Inmates are trusted with much more autonomy in this lower security facility. Each dormitory has its own telephone and prisoners have access to television in their rooms. Some of the billets also have en-suite toilet and shower amenities. There are even specialized facilities adapted for wheelchair accessibility.
Education and Work Programs
A key focus at Kirkham is providing education and employment opportunities to inmates. Prisoners can take morning or afternoon classes provided by The Manchester College to gain new skills and qualifications. Inmates also work a variety of jobs helping run the prison’s kitchens, workshops, farms, gardens and works departments. The goal is to help prisoners positively contribute during their sentence and prepare for success post-release.
As a Category D prison, Kirkham houses inmates that can be “reasonably trusted” to serve their sentence in an open environment. However, the relaxed setting has resulted in security issues at various points in its history.
Notable Events and Controversies
For an open prison, Kirkham has dealt with a number of challenging events over the years. Its inmate population and relaxed security standards have led to ongoing incidents.
High Abscond Rates
Absconding has been an ongoing issue, with nearly 1,000 escapees between 1998 to 2003. The ease of slipping away from an open prison has provided temptation for prisoners seeking to briefly escape confinement.
Drug Abuse Issues
With more freedom and outside access, the smuggling of illegal substances into Kirkham has also been a problem. In 2004, Kirkham was found to have the highest rates of inmate drug use in the English prison system.
Intermittent Custody Scheme
In an attempt to allow prisoners to maintain jobs and housing, an intermittent custody program was tested in 2004-2006. Inmates would be held on weekends or weekdays and released for the alternate period. However, this program was discontinued after only two years.
Despite the challenges, Kirkham has also housed a number of prominent prisoners over the years. The open environment has been viewed as ideal for housing white collar and non-violent offenders.
High Profile Former Prisoners
Some of the most famous former inmates held at Kirkham include businessman George Reynolds, musician Ian Brown, and footballers Simon Garner and Jan Mølby.
While struggles with drugs and absconding have continued, Kirkham has also had some positive developments in recent years.
In 2012, Kirkham celebrated its 50th anniversary as a prison. This important milestone honored Kirkham’s history and rehabilitation programs.
HMP Kirkham provides an intriguing case study of the opportunities and pitfalls faced when running an open Category D prison. The relaxed inmate freedom and facilities focused on rehabilitation and skills training align with goals of successfully reintegrating prisoners into society. However, the open environment has also repeatedly contributed to absconding and drug-related incidents over its history. As Kirkham moves beyond its 50th anniversary, the keys will be finding the right balance of freedom and accountability. Harnessing the benefits of its open approach while enforcing critical boundaries and restrictions will determine the prison’s future success.
Q1: When was HMP Kirkham first opened?
A1: HMP Kirkham first opened in 1962 after the closure of RAF Kirkham which previously occupied the site.
Q2: What security category is Kirkham classified as?
A2: Kirkham is a Category D open prison intended to house inmates that can be reasonably trusted.
Q3: What education and work opportunities exist at Kirkham?
A3: Inmates can take classes through The Manchester College and work jobs maintaining the prison’s facilities and operations.
Q4: What have been some of the biggest challenges Kirkham has faced as an open prison?
A4: High rates of inmates absconding and issues with smuggling of drugs have been two of the major ongoing challenges.
Q5: What notable people have been prisoners at Kirkham over the years? A5: Kirkham has housed famous inmates including businessman George Reynolds and singer Ian Brown.