HM Prison Whitemoor
HM Prison Whitemoor is one of the highest security jails in the United Kingdom, housing over 500 of the most dangerous criminals in the country. Located in Cambridgeshire, this Category A facility has seen its fair share of controversy and difficulties over the years. From daring escapes to radicalization concerns, life at Whitemoor has often made headlines. However, the prison also aims to provide rehabilitation opportunities to its prisoners through educational courses and vocational training.
History and Background
Opening and Early Years
Whitemoor Prison first opened its doors in 1992 on the site of an old railway yard. The jail was constructed as a maximum security facility intended to house long-term prisoners serving lengthy sentences.
In its early years of operation in the 1990s, Whitemoor saw a major escape attempt take place that would become one of the most infamous incidents in the prison’s history.
Major Escape in 1994
In September 1994, six high-profile prisoners managed to break out from Whitemoor’s Special Secure Unit in a dramatic escape plot. The group included London gangster Andy Russell and IRA member Paul Magee.
Armed with a smuggled gun, the prisoners were able to overcome guards and exit the facility. However, the freedom was short-lived, as all six escapees were captured within minutes of breaking out.
The incident highlighted security flaws at Whitemoor and led to reforms in the wake of the breakout. It also cemented the prison’s reputation as a holding facility for extremely dangerous convicts.
Further Incidents and Issues
Whitemoor continued to make headlines over the years for other disturbances and concerns. There were reports of an explosion in 2005 that led to a lockdown. And in 2006, an inspection criticized staff for ignoring prisoners’ requests for help.
There were also complaints of discrimination against ethnic minority prisoners in the diverse population at Whitemoor. The prison adapted its approaches to help ease tensions between different groups inside the jail.
Conditions and Facilities at Whitemoor
Prison Population and Security Category
As a Category A prison, Whitemoor houses about 500 inmates who are considered highly dangerous or have escaped from other facilities. The criteria to be sent here requires a lengthy sentence of at least four years.
With this challenging population, security is extremely tight. Whitemoor functions as a “prison within a prison” in some respects.
Close Supervision Centre
The Close Supervision Centre (CSC) at Whitemoor forms an inner complex for managing the highest-risk prisoners. It operates independently from the main jail with its own segregated unit for intense monitoring of problematic inmates.
The CSC helps isolate and reform the most volatile convicts through this prison-inside-a-prison setup.
Education and Training Opportunities
Despite the security concerns, Whitemoor aims to provide opportunities for rehabilitation. Prisoners can take part in educational courses like basic skills training, GCSEs, and Access to Higher Education programs.
Additionally, the prison offers vocational training in construction, furniture craft, recycling, and laundry services. These workshops help occupy prisoners’ time in productive ways.
Controversies and Challenges
Complaints of Discrimination
Whitemoor has faced accusations of discrimination against ethnic minority prisoners over the years. Inspectors in 2006 noted that black and Asian inmates reported unfair treatment.
The diverse population led to tensions between different groups that prison staff struggled to manage initially. Whitemoor implemented reforms to address these issues.
Concerns About Radicalization
There have also been concerns about Islamic extremists radicalizing other prisoners at Whitemoor. A significant portion of inmates identify as Muslim, and some have been convicted of terrorism offenses.
In 2008, officers complained that Muslim prisoners were attempting to radicalize others. Researchers were brought in to assess the risks of this happening within the jail.
2020 Terror Attack
Most recently in January 2020, two prisoners staged a terrorist attack on a guard at Whitemoor. Wearing fake suicide vests, they stabbed the officer multiple times.
Reports indicated one attacker was an Islamic extremist convicted in 2015 for terror offenses. The incident heightened fears about radicalization and violence at the prison.
Whitemoor faces significant challenges in managing extremely dangerous prisoners while also providing rehabilitation opportunities. Located in Cambridgeshire, it houses over 500 Category A inmates. The facility is renowned for incidents like the 1994 escape and more recent terror attack in 2020.
Whitemoor operates a prison inside a prison with its Close Supervision Centre. But it also offers education and training to prisoners. Concerns around discrimination and radicalization have led to reforms in recent years. Going forward, Whitemoor will continue its vital function as one of the UK’s most secure jails while aiming to make improvements internally.
What security category is Whitemoor Prison?
Whitemoor is a Category A maximum security prison in the UK for the most dangerous offenders.
How many prisoners are at Whitemoor?
Whitemoor houses around 500 male prisoners who are considered highly dangerous.
What is the CSC at Whitemoor?
The Close Supervision Centre is a separate high-security unit within the prison for managing problematic high-risk prisoners.
Has anyone ever escaped from Whitemoor?
Yes, in 1994 six prisoners including an IRA member famously escaped but were captured within minutes.
What opportunities are provided to prisoners at Whitemoor?
The prison offers educational courses, vocational training workshops, healthcare, a gym and other facilities aimed at rehabilitation.