HM Prison Low Newton
HM Prison Low Newton first opened in 1965 as a mixed remand center for both men and women. The initial capacity was for 65 male and 11 female inmates. As the prison population expanded across England and Wales in the 1970s, further accommodation was added at Low Newton in 1975, increasing the capacity to around 215 prisoners. However, like many prisons, Low Newton was often overcrowded with too many inmates for the available facilities.
In September 1998, Low Newton began the transition to becoming a women’s only prison. A re-role refurbishment program saw the removal of male inmates, eventually creating an all-female prison. Low Newton now accepts female inmates from courts across northern England, from the Scottish Borders down to North Yorkshire and across to North Cumbria.
There have been some notable incidents at HMP Low Newton over the years. In 1998, a female inmate being treated at the hospital assaulted an officer, holding scissors to her throat and demanding drugs. Police subdued the prisoner with a taser stun gun. In 2014, a program called The Learning Shop aimed at improving female inmates’ mental health was closed due to lack of funding from the National Offender Management Service.
Facilities and Units
Low Newton contains a general open prison population unit for around 230 women. There is also a dedicated unit for young female offenders from age 18-21. A small number of female juvenile offenders under 18 are also held.
In addition, Low Newton houses high-security prisoners such as female lifers. The Primrose Project operates at the prison treating women with dangerous and severe personality disorders – the only such unit for women in the UK prison system.
Healthcare and mental health services are provided to inmates by an in-house NHS team. There have been some concerns raised over the years about underfunding impacting these services. However, the prison attempts to provide care and rehabilitation programs tailored to female inmates’ specific needs.
A number of notorious and high-profile women have served sentences at HM Prison Low Newton over the years.
- Joanna Dennehy – Serving a life term for three murders and two attempted murders.
- Emma Aitken – Also serving a life sentence, she was an accomplice of Dennehy.
- Rose West – Infamous serial killer, wife of Fred West.
- Sharon Carr – Britain’s youngest ever female killer, convicted of murder aged 12.
- Tracey Connelly – Jailed for her role in the death of Baby P.
- Anne Darwin – Jailed for faking her husband’s death to claim insurance money.
- Bernadette McNeilly – Leader of a gang who tortured and murdered teenager Suzanne Capper.
There have been a few controversies around conditions and operations at Low Newton. Historically, like many UK prisons, Low Newton has seen problems with overcrowding and inadequate staff-to-inmate ratios. The closure of The Learning Shop mental health program due to underfunding points to resourcing issues.
There have also been some concerns raised around violence and safety at the prison. A 2016 report found levels of prisoner-on-prisoner assaults were increasing at Low Newton and staff cuts left the prison understaffed. However, the Chief Inspector noted rehabilitation work and education programs were good quality.
Impact on Community
As a major employer in the local area, Low Newton provides jobs for over 300 staff. The prison partners with community groups to offer rehabilitation programs that also benefit the community, such as housing assistance for inmates upon release. Some inmates have opportunities to undertake voluntary work outside the prison.
There are hopes a new expansion program will create additional local employment opportunities. More spaces for female inmates could also increase the scope of rehabilitation and training programs.
Plans were approved in 2020 for a major £150 million expansion of HMP Low Newton, increasing the prisoner capacity from 319 to 732. This will boost rehabilitation and training facilities.
There are also plans to partner with other agencies to pilot innovative approaches to reducing reoffending rates post-release. Other women’s prisons around the country are being used as models for best practices in mental healthcare and rehabilitation that could be implemented at Low Newton.
HM Prison Low Newton has undergone major changes since first opening in the 1960s, transitioning from a mixed facility to a women’s prison. While it has faced controversies around overcrowding, funding, and violence, rehabilitation efforts have increased in recent decades. Ongoing expansion aims to further upgrade facilities and programs and turn Low Newton into one of the country’s model prisons for female inmates. With the right resources and staff, the prison hopes to positively impact the lives of hundreds of women each year through education, mental health treatment, and skills training.
Q: When did HMP Low Newton become a female-only prison?
A: Low Newton transitioned to an all-female prison in 1998, with the last male inmates removed after a re-role refurbishment program.
Q: What is the current capacity of HMP Low Newton?
A: As of 2020, Low Newton’s capacity was 319 inmates. A new expansion plan aims to increase this to over 700 prisoners.
Q: What kinds of inmates are housed at Low Newton?
A: It houses adult women from courts across Northern England, young female offenders, female lifers, and some juvenile girls under 18.
Q: How many staff work at the prison?
A: Low Newton employs around 300 staff across custodial, healthcare, educational, administrative and other roles.
Q: What rehabilitation programs are offered at the prison?
A: Programs include mental health services, skills training, housing assistance, addiction counseling, and voluntary work placements in the community.