Three documentaris that challenge myths about British prisons

Get past the urban myths about life behind bars and take a look at the real thing. You might be surprised

Source: Marine Perez

Source: Marine Perez


The three documentaries below paint a vivid picture of what it is really like to be in prison in Britain. They shatter many of the misconceptions that people have about jail.


The first documentary, The Prisoners, was broadcast on the BBC in April 2013. It is very well made and gives an accurate depiction of most aspects of incarceration in modern Britain.

Pentonville was one of the first “modern prisons” built in London. Construction was completed in 1842 and it became the model for British prisons. A further 54 were built to similar designs over six years and hundreds throughout the British Empire.



In February 2014, a report by Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick said there are “huge challenges” at Pentonville and that it will not have a “viable future” without a major refurbishment and extra staff.

Famous prisoners at Pentonville include Irish writer and wit Oscar Wilde (1895), Irish revolutionary leader Sir Roger Casement (1916) and Indian independence activist Udham Singh (1940). The latter two were executed at the prison.

More recent visitors have been far more prosaic: Pete Doherty of The Libertines, Boy George and George Michael. Here is part two of the documentary.




The second documentary is from Gloucester prison, which was opened as a “County Gaol” in 1782 and closed by Justice Secretary Chris Grayling in 2013. The film offers another realistic portrayal of life behind bars.



Gloucester was condemned in 2003 as “among the 20 most overcrowded jails” in the United Kingdom and criticised a few years later for overcrowding, poor dining provision, inadequate organised activities and cramped cells.

Among the most notorious inmates were Fred West, the English serial killer, and Herbert Rowse Armstrong, the only solicitor in the history of the United Kingdom to have been hanged for murder.

Here is part two of the documentary.




The third documentary is not technically from a prison, but a hospital in England that houses three high-security psychiatric hospitals. It was founded in 1863 and was formerly known as Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum.

Today it is home to patients who suffer from severe mental illness; many also have personality disorders. Most have either been convicted of serious crimes, or been found unfit to plead in a trial for such crimes.



Among the most notorious inmates at Broadmoor were Peter Sutcliffe, known as the Yorkshire Ripper, legendary gangster Ronnie Kray and Charles Bronson, who is often referred to in the British press as the “most violent prisoner in Britain.”



The documentaries above have the benefit of being freely available on You Tube. But of course there are many more good documentaries out there. Let us know which ones you like.


TWITTER: @prisonwatchuk 

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