HM Prison Preston
HM Prison Preston is a category B men’s prison located in the city centre of Preston, Lancashire. With origins dating back over 200 years, Preston has a long and storied history. While not without its controversies and challenges over the decades, the prison continues to play an important role in the local community.
History of the Prison
HMP Preston first opened its doors in 1790, making it one of the oldest operational prisons in the country. The original buildings were located on the current site of the existing prison.
In the 1840s, major rebuilding commenced to construct a new Victorian radial design prison. The renovations continued over several decades, finally completing in 1895. This produced the imposing, castle-like structure that still forms the core of the prison today.
After being briefly closed between 1931-1939, HMP Preston was utilized by the military during World War II from 1939-1948. It then returned to civilian use as a local prison holding adult males from the Lancashire and Cumbria regions.
Conditions and Controversies
Being one of the oldest prisons in England, HMP Preston has faced its share of controversies and complaints over conditions from inspectors and prisoners alike.
Most notably, extreme overcrowding issues were highlighted in the early 2000s. A 2001 report revealed the prison had a 78% overcrowding rate – the highest in the country at the time. Just a few years later in 2004, Preston was still recorded as the most overcrowded prison in England and Wales.
These cramped, overpopulated conditions exacerbated tensions between inmates and the staff. A highly critical 1999 inspection found staff were being “obstructive and uncooperative” with prisoners, exacerbating control issues.
The Prison Today
Today, HMP Preston continues to operate as a category B men’s prison within the adult male estate. This means it houses prisoners for whom escape must be made very difficult, but don’t require maximum security conditions.
The current operational capacity is around 750 inmates, although the population has dropped slightly below this to approximately 667 as of September 2022. Prisoners are a mixture of those remanded in custody awaiting trial, and those convicted at court – mainly from the Lancashire and Cumbria regions.
Facilities at the prison include workshops, education programs, gymnasiums, and outdoor sports pitches. Inmates work prison jobs such as kitchen duties, cleaning, waste management, laundries and textiles workshops.
There are also rehabilitation programs focusing on education, skills training, overcoming addictions, and managing aggression. Religious services are held in the prison chapel.
Throughout its long history, HMP Preston has held some high profile and notable inmates.
In the 19th century, Irish political prisoners were held within the prison walls. Suffragette leader Sylvia Pankhurst was briefly imprisoned there in 1909 for her activism.
In more recent times, serial killers such as the ‘Black Panther’ Donald Neilson and ‘Doctor Death’ Harold Shipman were incarcerated in Preston.
In the 1960s, celebrity inmates included George Blake, the British spy jailed for espionage, and Great Train Robber Bruce Reynolds. Gangster Charlie Richardson also served time for the torture of gang rivals.
The 21st century has seen footballers Adam Johnson and Joey Barton serve sentences at Preston for sexual offenses and assault respectively.
Impact on the Local Community
The presence of a large prison in the centre of Preston has significant impacts on the local community, both positive and negative.
Economically, HMP Preston provides employment for several hundred staff, from prison officers to admin and facilities roles. The prison population also represents a captive market for local goods and service providers. However, the large imposing walls and razor wire are an eyesore, and some feel having a prison deters investment and tourism.
Many residents have expressed safety concerns, with some citing higher crime rates in the areas immediately surrounding the prison. But others argue most inmates pose no risk, and the location allows easier family visits assisting rehabilitation.
Overall, locals seem to have an ambivalent attitude to having a prison in their midst. While they recognize the benefits, many see it as an ugly necessity that will always generate complex reactions.
The Future of HMP Preston
HMP Preston seems likely to continue its long-running operation as a key prison in the Northwest for the foreseeable future.
There are plans proposed to build new residential prison blocks within the grounds, increasing capacity by a few hundred beds. This should alleviate overcrowding, which has been an issue since the early 2000s.
Authorities are also keen to modernize facilities, reinforce security, and continue improving rehabilitation programs. A more positive relationship between staff and prisoners remains a priority.
Preston’s historic central city location provides logistical advantages that make it strategically important to the wider prison network. With overcrowding still a systemic problem, the resources and space of HMP Preston will likely be needed for many more years.
While retention of its Victorian architecture means the core design remains outdated, incremental upgrades will aim to lift conditions to modern standards expected of the 21st century prison system.
HMP Preston has a long and storied history within the UK prison network, dating back over 200 years. Despite periodic controversies, it continues to serve an important function as a category B local prison within the Northwest region.
Ongoing upgrades to facilities, security, and rehabilitation programs aim to improve conditions for the 21st century. However, major challenges like overcrowding remain. Preston seems set to continue operations for the foreseeable future, playing a key role in the local community despite mixed public perceptions.
What type of prison is HMP Preston?
HMP Preston is a category B men’s prison, holding adult males from the Lancashire and Cumbria regions. This means it has strong security for prisoners assessed as requiring escape to be made very difficult.
How old is the prison?
HMP Preston dates back to 1790, making it one of the oldest operational prisons in England. The current Victorian buildings were constructed between 1840-1895.
Who manages the prison?
As with all prisons in England and Wales, HMP Preston is managed and operated by Her Majesty’s Prison Service, an executive agency of the UK Ministry of Justice.
What facilities are there?
HMP Preston has various workshops, educational programs, gym and sports areas. There is also a chapel and outdoor pitches. Inmates are assigned jobs within the prison.
What is the capacity?
The current operational capacity is around 750 prisoners, although the population is slightly below this level at approximately 667 inmates as of late 2022.