Are these the UK’s 10 worst prisons?

A look at some places you definitely wouldn’t want to be locked up 

Prison cells

Source: Flickr

From violence to drugs to bullying to overcrowding, the United Kingdom’s prisons have reached crisis point as budgets have been slashed.

The country has over 140 prisons, but the ten below are some of the worst examples.

 1. Wandsworth Prison, London, England


Source: diamond geezer/ Flickr

Wandsworth is the largest and arguably the most feared prison in the UK holding roughly 1,600 prisoners. In 2011, a report said that the treatment of inmates at Wandsworth was “demeaning, unsafe and fell below what could be classed as decent.”

It is one of the most overcrowded prisons in England and Wales. In 2013, a former inmate told the Evening Standard that violence, rape and psychological pressure were common.

Notable former prisoners include Charles Bronson, often described as the “most violent prisoner in Britain.”

2. Brixton Prison, London, England


Source: Mark Longair/ Flickr

Brixton Prison is considered the worst for drug use among inmates, with almost 20 per cent of prisoners testing positive last year, according to the 2014 annual edition of the Prison Performance Digest.

3. Maghaberry Prison, Lisburn, Northern Ireland


Source: Oliver McKeown/Flickr

Maghaberry is one of the most expensive prisons in the UK to run, but despite the expenditure, a 2009 report said the prison had “serious operational difficulties” that demanded urgent action.

Six months before the inspection was conducted, an inmate hanged himself while under supervision in a specialist unit. There have been no inspections of this prison since.

4. Wakefield Prison, West Yorkshire, England


Source: chris/Flickr

Wakefield is the largest high security prison in western Europe. It’s nicknamed “Monster Mansion” due to the large number of notorious criminals held there, with 70 per cent of them serving life sentences.

In March 2004, prison staff were criticised for being disrespectful to inmates. An inspection report said that the prison was “over-controlled”, with a third of the prison’s inmates claiming they have been victimised.

“We were concerned that prisoners in the [segregation] unit consistently referred to a climate of bullying and intimidation there,” Anne Owers, then-Chief Inspector of Prisons, said in 2004.

A 2014 report found that despite some improvements, levels of violence had increased.

5. Glen Parva Prison, Leicestershire, England


Source: Creative Commons

This young offenders’ institution has been labelled a “monster” due to the way its staff treats inmates.

Back in 1997, the Chief Inspector left the jail refusing to make a report because conditions there were so bad. A 2010 report by the Independent Monitoring Board described conditions there as “deplorable”:

The prison “operates within the confines of a sprawling campus of largely shabby buildings which continue to degrade over time.”

In 2013, a report said that significant changes had been made, but added that violence was still high.

6. Cornton Vale Prison, Stirling, Scotland


Source: Creative Commons


Cornton Vale women’s prison was named the most violent in Scotland in 2011.It has been the subject of serious concern for many years.

More fights and assaults have been recorded there than in any Scottish male jail. Eight inmates were found hanged in their cells between 1995 and 1998, and two died in 2001.

The prison also is the worst for the number of reports of inmates using threatening and abusive words or behaviour.

7. Oakwood Prison, Staffordshire, England


Oakwood was to be the blueprint for a new generation of big, cheap jails, but the privatised prison run by G4S has been beset by problems

A 2013 inspection by the Chief Inspector of Prisons said that a high level of violence at Oakwood was an issue of concern. The report said that staff lacked the experience to deal with inmates effectively.

“It is well-known in prison circles that this institution is referred to as ‘Jokewood’ by prisoners and staff across the system, but this isn’t a joke – it is deeply serious,” Frances Crook of the Howard League for Penal Reform said.

In January 2014, the BBC revealed that the prison had called ambulances 358 times in 2013, which is more than twice as often as any other UK prison.

More recently, it was revealed that the use of force by staff at Oakwood is double that of similar prisons.

8. Thameside Prison, London, England


Source: Andy Worthington/Flickr


In 2013, the Chief Inspector of Prisons issued a damning report criticising the levels of violence at the prison and its restricted regime. The report said that there was a high level of assaults and use of force by staff.

It also said that 60 per cent of prisoners were locked up during the working day with some inmates spending 23 hours a day in their cells. The Howard League for Penal Reform said conditions were “truly alarming”.

“Thameside is doing nothing to help prisoners turn their lives around,” Howard League’s Andrew Neilson said.

In 2014, a report said that the prison continued to face significant operational challenges.

9. Winchester Prison, Hampshire, England

Source: Chris Talbot/Creative Commons


Winchester prison has been criticised for overcrowding and violence, with 10 per cent of prisoners developing a drug problem.

The jail holds 680 prisoners, but there are only enough cells for 500, a report by the Chief Inspector of Prisons said last year. It also said that vulnerable inmates were not protected and some had even been abused.

Inspectors found two severely disabled men sharing a one-man cell. The small window was painted over, so the men had a choice between keeping out the cold or shutting out the light. They hadn’t had a shower for four months.

10. Brinsford Young Offenders Institution, Staffordshire, England


Source: Creative Commons


This jail was given the lowest rating by the National Offender Management Service last year. An earlier report revealed that inmates were living in dirty cells with graffiti on the walls, with some cells not having window panes. There were calls to close the prison.

“At the time of the last inspection in November 2013, Brinsford was struggling to cope with a challenging population and its performance had deteriorated to an unacceptable level,” Michael Spurr, chief executive officer of NOMS, said.

Did we miss any really bad ones?

The 10 prisons above are undoubtedly among the worst, but do you know any others that we might have missed from our list? If so, please let us know.

TWITTER: @prisonwatchuk

2 Comments on “Are these the UK’s 10 worst prisons?”

  1. antonia says:

    Hi my name is Antonia Taylor and i can honestly say that my partner who has just been moved from Thameside was assaulted by 8 prison officers in this prison he is registered disabled and had just had just had major operation to remove a tumour 8 months prior to the assault and has bi polar .so when he tried to make a complaint they tried to make out he assaulted them so when the judge came to the trial at the prison he ruled it out.Why do some prison safe tell such lies to cover themselves and what kind of example is this to inmates.And the last time i went to see him after this assault they made some fake lie up so i could not see him .I found them also a very rude bunch of staff on the whole who need to go on people skills causes.Thank fully my partner has been moved from Thameside to Dove Gate i just pray the staff are more compassionate there.


  2. Briony J Shutt says:

    Hi, I’m a freelance blogger writing for The Fairytale Finder (WordPress) but when im not doing that I’m a law student at the University of Bedfordshire and i can honestly say i found this very helpful for my criminal law unit 😀 Thanks for taking the time write it i’ll be sure to follow 🙂 xxx


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