Chronography of Prisons

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Prisons UK

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United Kingdom Prison population


2013, Reading gaol, Berkshire, closed.

2013, Shepton Mallet prison, until now the oldest working prison in the UK, closed. It had first closed in 1930 but reopened as a military prison or �glasshouse� in 1939, used by the US Army from 1942. In 1945 it became a UK military prison again. In 1966 it reverted to use as a civilian prison.

28 September 2006, The UK�s Chief Inspector of Prisons released a damning report on Pentonville Prison, describing it as �overrun with cockroaches�.

2005, Weare Prison, a former troop transport barge ship moored in Portland Harbour, Dorset, closed after failing inspection.

2000, The Maze Prison, Northern Ireland, closed (see 1971). It had formerly been an RAF base, named after a nearby village. The Maze housed mainly IRA and other Irish Republican prisoners, who were treated as political prisoners until 1975 and allowed to wear their own clothes. The prison was also known locally as the H Blocks, or Long Kesh. From 1975 the Maze inmates� classification as �political� began to be phased out, which required them to wear prison uniforms. This gave rise to protests in which the priusoners refused to wear prison unoiforms, instead modifying blankets and wearing those instead. They also started the �dirty protest� after allegations that prison warders were beating them during slopping out. This meant the prisoners urinated on the floor and smeared faeces on the walls. Two days after newly-elected Northern Irish MP Bobby Sands died during a protest hunger strike in 1981, the incoming Northern Irish Secretary James Prior announced that all paramilitary prisoners would be allowed to wear their own clothes.

15/2/2000, The US prison population passed the 2 million mark. The USA had 6 to 10 times the incarceration rate of other developed countries.

1998, Lowdham Grange Prison, Nottinghamshire, opened.

1996, Whatton Prison, Nottinghamshire, opened.

31 March 1996, Crumlin RoaJuly Prison, Belfast, closed.

1995, Wealstun Prison, Wetherby, opened; an amalgamation of Thorp Arch and Rudgate Prisons.

1994, Doncaster Marshgate Prison opened.

1993, The UK�s Prison Service was formed.

1992, Elmley Prison, Sheerness, Kent, opened.

1992, Kirklevington Prison, Yorkshire, opened.

1991, Bullingdon Prison, Bicester, Oxfordshire, opened.

1991, Brinsford Young Offenders Institute, north of Wolverhampton, opened.

1991, Belmarsh Prison in S E London opened.

1 April 1990. The longest prison riot in British history began at Strangeways Prison, Manchester. It lasted until 25 April, and one remand prisoner died. In 1990 the prison was overcrowded; designed for 970 inmates, it held 1,647 in 1990.

10/1988, Garth Prison, Lancashire, opened.

1987, Full Sutton Prison,Yorkshire, opened.

1987, The UK prison population was 56,400. 20% were aged under 21; 22% were on remand. Prison overcrowding meant some 2,000 prisoners were being held in police cells. In 1984, 55% of male prisoners and 34% of female porisoners were reconvicted within 2 years of release.

1987, Maghaberry high security prison, Northern Ireland, opened.

1985, Wayland Prison, Thetford, Norfolk, opened.

1985, Lindholme prison, Yorkshire, opened on a former MoD site.

1983, Feltham Prison, west of London, a youth custody centre, opened. A remand centre was added in 1988.

1982, Under the Criminal Justice Act 1982, Borstals were replaced by Youth Custody Centres.

1979, Hydebank Wood Young Offenders Institute, Belfast, opened.

1979, Wymott Prison, Leyland,Lancashire, opened.

1976, Featherstone Prison, Staffordshire, just north of Wolverhampton, opened.

1975, Cornton Vale Prison, Stirling opened. It ios cotland�s only all-women prison.

July 1974, Channings Wood Prison, Newton Abbot, Devon, opened.

1972, Acklington Prison, near Morpeth, Northumberland, opened.

1971, The Maze Prison, Northern Ireland, opened (see 2000). Originally known as Long Kesh, it was an internment camp for IRA prisoners.

1971, Long Lartin Prison, near Evesham, opened.

1969, Coldingley Prison, Surrey, opened.

1967, Britain began to classify its prisoners. Category A were serious offenders likely to try to escape, and Category D were trustworthy prisoners. A rising crime rate in Britain forjm the 1950s had brought security to the fore, replacing rehabilitation (see 1948).

1 August 1963, The minimum age for prison in the UK was raised to 17.

1963, Blundeston Prison, Suffolk, opened.

1962, Kirkham Prison, Lancashire, was opened.

1960, Ford Open Prison, Sussex, was opened.

1958, Wetherby Young Offenders Institute opened, on the site of a former naval base.

October 1958, Everthorpe Prison, near Beverley, Yorkshire, opened as a Borstal. It became a Category C prison in 1991.

1955, Lancaster Castle Prison opened.

1954, Blantyre House, near Tunbridge Wells, Kent, became a prison. It had previously been a children�s home.

1950, Erlestoke Prison, Wiltshire, opened.

1950, Standford Hill Prison, Sheerness, Kent, first opened (reconstructed 1986).

1948, In British prisons, hard labour and penal servitude were abolished. The Criminal Justice Act 1948 set a model for all UK prisons. Theer was a shift towards rehabilitation, but see 1967.

1947, Leyhill, Gloiucestershire opened as Britain�s first open prison.

1947, Askham Grange Prison, Yorkshire, was opened as Britain�s first women�s open prison.

1946, Hewell Grange Prison, Worcestershire, was opened, originally as a Borstal, but since 1991 a Category D prison.

27 May 1936. The first open prison in Britain was opened at New Hall, near Wakefield, Yorkshire.

1933, New Hall Prison, Wakefield,opened as a men�s open prison.

25 January 1932, A riot at Dartmoor Prison; the Governor�s life was saved by a man, George Donovan, who had been reprieved from hanging an hour before execution and was serving life instead. Prisoners were complaining of poor and inadequate food, damp cells, and the difficulty faced by visitor in reaching the remote granite prison high on the moors.

1927, Camp Hill Prison, Newport, Isle of Wight, was opened by Sir Winston Churchill.

1919, Edinburgh Prison opened.

1916, Ruthin gaol, Wales, closed.

1908, In the UK, the Children Act abolished the practice of sending children aged under 14 to prison.

5 January 1908, Serious prisoner mutiny at Dartmoor Prison; several warders injured.

16 October 1902. The first Borstal institution opened, at the village of Borstal near Rochester, Kent.

1 April 1902, The treadmill was abolished in British prisons. It was invented by Sir W Cubitt around 1818. The UK�s Prison Act 1865 specified that every male prisoner aged over 16 sentenced to hard labour should spemd at least 3 months of his sentence on �first class labour� � that is, the treadmill, crank, capstan or stone-breaking. The Prisons Act 1877 reduced this period to one month. A day of such labour consisted of two 3-hour sessions, with a 3 minute break between 15 minutes of work.

1901, The treadmill had almost vanished from British prisons. This year just 13 prisons retained them, down ftom 39 in 1895.

1900, The term �labour camp� for a penal institution where prisoners had to do physical work was first used.

1899, UK Prison Diet. In the UK, a departmental Committee recommended different classes of diet to be give to prisoners, according to length of sentence, age, sex and conduct. Class A diet was provided to prisoners serving not more than 7 days; it was designed to be wholesome but spartan enough not to be tempting to �loafers or mendicants�. It consisted of 8oz daily bread for breakfast (6oz for females and juveniles; i.ethose aged under 16). (Note, 36 oz = approx. 1 kilogram) with 1 pint of gruel (Note 1.75 pints = approx. 1 litre). Juveniles also got 0.5 pints of milk. Dinner was 8 oz bread daily, and on 3 days of thr week, 8 oz of potatoes (for vegetables). Supper was breakfast fare, repeated. Note. dinner and supper, not lunch and dinner,

Prisoners serving between 7 and 14 days were given the Class A diet for the first 7 days, then Class B diet for the second week. Class B was also provided to prisoners on remand and debtors.

Class B diet comprised, breakfast, daily, same as Class A. Supper, same as breakfast, except that men got 1 pint of porridge instead of gruel, and juveniles recived 6 oz of bread and 1 pint of cocoa (no porridge or gruel). Dinner (midday meal) comprised 6oz bread daily for all, plus 8 oz potatoes daily for all, plus; Sunday, Thursday 4oz cooked meat (3 oz for females and juveniles); Monday 2 oz fat bacon (1 oz for females and juveniles) and 10 oz beans 98 oz females and juveniles); Tuesday, Friday, 1 pint of soup for all; Wednesday, Saturday, 10 oz suet pudding (8 oz for females and juveniles). Class C diet was a little more generous and was provided to prisoners sevring longer sentences. There was also a punishment diet, for prisoners breaching internal jail discipline rules, and not to be give for more than 3 days; this comprised, daily, 16 oz of bread and as much water as the prisoner wanted.

There was no difference between the food given to hard labour and non-hard labour prisoners.

In other countries; Sweden was more severe, with just 2 meals a day, at 12 noon and 7pm, both meals comprising mainly porridge or gruel. In France, inmates were provided with more cheese and vegetables, with additional such being purchasable by the prisonerswith their wages. The USA prison diet was more generous/varied, including fresh fish, fruit and even coffee.

Source for UK Prison Diet; Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th edn, 1910-11, Vol.8, pp.212-213.

By 1895 British prisons had 39 treadmills and 29 cranks, a number reduced to 13 and 5 respectively in 1901, just before abolition.

1896, In Britain, the 1896 Debtors Act brought an end to Debtor�s Prisons. Previously many debtors were imprisoned until their debts were paid and because of interest the debt might actually increase and they spend many years in there. Conversely, wealthier debtors could arrange for a range of priveliges to make their sentence les onerous, or even �serve� their time outside, but nearby, the prison.

1891, Wormwood Scrubs prison, London, opened. Construction of the first nine cells had begun in 1874, and ondce these prisoners had moved in, they built more cells, facilitating the moving in of more prisoners, who built more of the prison, and so on until it was completed.

1890, Nottingham prison opened, in Perry Road, Nottingham (then known as Bagthorpe Gaol).

11/1890, Millbank Prison, London, closed.

1888, Peterhead Prison, Scotland, opened.

1887, Norwich Prison opened.

1881, Aberdeen Prison, opened. It was the site of Scotalnd�s last execution; Henry John Burnett was hanged in 1963 for the murder of merchant seaman Thomas Guyan.

31 December 1881, Newgate Prison, London, closed. Originally built above one of the City of London gates, it moved to a new location (now the CentralCriminal Court, Old Bailey) in 1770. The building was finally demolished in 1902 to make way for the Court.

1878, Britain�s Prison Commission, under Edmund Du Cane (1830-1903), closed 54 local prisons; more such prisons were phased out in succeeding years so that by 1894 only 54 local prisons were left operating. The prison staff were reorganised on military and meritocratic lines, replacing an earlier system of patronage. A strict rule book was enforced, with severe penalties for wardens who mistreated prisoners. Prisoners now had to wear uniforms, with a regime of �hard fare, hard bed, hard abour�. However this strict regime did not reduce crime or reoffending rates,

1874, Rochester Prison, Kent, opened, on a former military site. In 1902 it became a Borstal and now is used for holding males aged 21 and under.

7 June 1872, Matthew Hill, English prison reformer, died (born 6 August 1792).

1870, Hull Prison opened.

3 November 1870. In Britain, the photographing of every prisoner was made compulsory. A photograph had been successfully used on a �wanted� poster in 1861.

25 June 1868, Strangeways Prison, Manchester, opened. It replaced the New Bailey Prison, Salford, which closed in 1868.

1865, Britain�s Prison Act emphasised retribution and deterrence over any reformist aspects of prison. Prison was made harsher, with separate cells for inmates. Hard labour was �first class� (treadwheel, crank, stonebreaking) or �second class� (any other hard physical exterion authorised by the Home Secretary). Prison Governores were authorised to impose up to three months solitary confinenment on bread and water. Visiting Justices of the Peace could impose a month in a �punishment cell� or a flogging. Chains could also be authorised. However there were grants to aid newly-discharged prisoners, Small local prisons that could not afford to meet these measures were closed in the following years.

1863, Broadmoor, asylum for the criminally insane, was built.

1857, Britain ceasedusing �hulks�, old ships, as prisons.

1853, Lewes Prison, Sussex, opened.

1852, Holloway Prison, London,opened. It was mixed-sex until 1903, when it became Britain�s first women-only prison.

1849, Winson Green Prison, Birmingham, opened.

1849, Construction work on Wandsworth Prison began. Male prisoners were first admitted in 1851; female prisoners from 1852.

1848, Portland Prison, Dorset, opened. Originally for adults, it became a Borstal in 1921.

1846, Leeds Prison, Armley, opened. Executions took place there until 1860.

1845, Crumlin Road prison, Belfast, opened.

12 October 1845, Elizabeth Fry, prison reformer, died.

1844, Reading Prison, Berkshire, UK, opened as the County Gaol. From 1845 to 1913 public executions were carried out there.

1842, Pentonville Prison, north London, opened (closed 1996).

1842, London�s Fleet Prison, in use since the Norman Conquest and once used to house prisoners committed there by the King�s Star Chamber, and later used to hold debtors, closed, it was demolished two years later.

1842, Marshalsea Prison, Southwark, London, a debtor�s prison, closed.

1840, Construction of the original Preston, Lancashire, prison began. It closed in 1931, was re-used by the military in 1939, and became a civilian prison again in 1946.

1828, Chelmsford Prison opened.

1823, The UK Jail Act was passed. Part of Robert Peel�s jail reforms, it provided for regular inspections of prisons by magistrates, at least three times every three months, jailers received a regular salary (so they did not extort money from prisoners), women prisoners were to be guarded by female warders, and all priusoners received some elementary education and regular visits from doctors and chaplains. However these reforms only applied to the larger prisons in London and 17 other cities; smaller provincial prisons and debtors prisons remained as before.

1823 A treadmill was installed at Shepton Mallet prison. It powered a mill outside the prison walls.

1821, Millbank Prison, London, opened.

1820, Brixton Prison opened, as the Surrey House of Correction.

8 March 1819, Maidstone Prison, Kent, opened. It began with 141 inmates.

1817, The Treadmill was first introduced in British prisons,by Sir William Cubbitt. It was first installed in Brixton Prison.

1817, Elizabeth Fry, prison reformer, began her work. She formed the Association for the Improvement of Female Prisoners at Newgate Jail, London. In the next 25 years she visited the prisons in the UK and a large number of other European countites, and planned to go further afield, but began to suffer failing health.

1815, The UK Government started paying regular wages to jailers and began inspecting prison conditions.

24 May 1809, Dartmoor Prison was opened to house French prisoners of war. From 1850 it was used for British convicts.

21 March 1806, The foundation stone of Dartmoor Prison in Devon was laid. See 24 May 1809.

1808, Canterbury county gaol, Kent, was built, just outside the city limits.

21 March 1806, Construction of Dartmoor Prison began. It opened in 1809, for PoWs from the Napoleonic Wars. It became a criminal prison in 1850.

1805, Parkhurst Prison, Isle of Wight, first opened as a military hospital. It became a prison, for females, from 1863 to 1869, and has since then been a male prison.

1794, Stafford gaol was opened.

6 August 1792, Matthew Hill, English prison reformer, was born (died 7 June 1872).

1791, In the UK, Jeremy Bentham designed the �perfect prison� a star shaped �panopticon� in which prisoners never knew if or when they were being watched from a central point. The idea for the Panopticon came from the menagerie kept by King Louis XIV of France, which consisted of an octagonal room (the King�s salon) surrounded by seven cages where the animals were kept; the eight side was the entrance. Observation was seen by Louis XIV as a form of power, in the centralised French State, where the nobility were required to reside at Versailles where the monarch could keep an eye on them (Peter Wollen, �Government by Appearances�, (pp.91-106) in New Left Review, Vol.3, May/June 2000, p.91.

1790, The New Bailey Prison, in Salford, Manchester, opened, It closed in 1868.

20 January 1790, John Howard, prison reformer, died.

1783, The North Riding House of Correction opened, near Northallerton. It is now a Young Offender Institute.

21 May 1780. Elizabeth Fry, prison reformer, was born in Norwich. She was the daughter of a Quaker banker, John Gurney.

2 September 1726, Birth of prison reformer John Howard. English campaigner for better conditions for prisoners and wages for gaolers.

1780, Armagh gaol, Northern Ireland,opened (main block); a new front was added in 1819. Public executions were held here until the 1860s; the last execution within the gaol took place in 1904. The gaol closed in 1986.

1779, In the UK, the Penitentiary Act introduced the concept of rehabilitation to British prisons.

1778, UK prison reformer John Howard established the principle of separate confinement for prisoners combined with work.

1777, John Howard�s book, The State of the Prisons, exposed the poor and corruptstate of Britain�s prison system.

1776, Britain began to use prison ships, or hulks, to house criminals who could no longer be transported to America because of the War of Independence. Many were moored in the Thames Estuary, or off Portsmouth and Plymouth. They were also used off Gibraltar, Ireland and Bermuda.

1594, Wakefield House of Correction opened. The present day Wakefield Prison opened in 1847.

1645, Tothill House of Correction was built in Tothill Fields, south of the present day St James Park, London, to deal with the population of thieves, prostitutes and �rascals and idle persons�.

1555, Bridewell Prison, London,opened. It was originally built in 1522 as a palace for King Henry VIII. Other English towns copied it as an example.

1218, Newgate Prison, London, opened.

1330, Hexham Old Gaol, Hexham, Northumberland, was built.

1166, In Britain, the Assize of Clarendon ordered jails to be constructed in all English counties and boroughs.


Prisons Canada

1972, Canada finally ceased sterilising convicts in prison.


Prisons France

31 July 1974, Prison riots at the French prison of St Martin de Re, Brittany. Two prisoners were killed and 21 injured.

22 August 1953, The infamous French prison of Devils Island, depicted in the film Papillon, was closed after a century of operations.

11 March 1830, Trophime Lally-Tollendal, French prison reformer, died (born 5 March 1751).

5 March 1751, Trophime Lally-Tollendal, French prison reformer, was born (died 11 March 1830).


Prisons Germany

1937, Nazi Germany had, by now, forcibly sterilised some 225,000 convicts in prison. An opinion poll in the US this year showed two-thirds of respondents supported this idea, and in the UK Churchill also privately supported the idea.

4 October 1864, Theodor Fliedner, German prison reformer, died (born 21 January 1800).

18 June 1826, The Prison Society of Germany (Rheinisch Westfalischer Gefangnisveren) was formed, to improve conditions for German prisoners. At that time prisoners in Germany were barely fed, dirty, and in complete idleness; no statistics were collected on them for the basis of useful legislation. Inspired by Elizabeth Fry, Theodor Fleidner began this Society, and in 1833 he opened a refuge for discharged female convicts.

21 January 1800, Theodor Fliedner, German prison reformer, was born (died 4 October 1864).


Prisons Ireland

2000, Midlands Prison, Portlaoise, Ireland, opened.

1924, Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin, was closed. Opened in the 1790s, its last inmate was Eamon de Valera.

1850, Mountjoy Prison, Dublin, Ireland, opened.


Prisons Italy

27 July 1973, Prison riots at the Queen of Heaven Prison, Rome, caused US$ 1.67 million worth of damage.


Prisons Roman Empire

200 AD, The Palestinian town of Tiberias was the site of one of the oldest prisons outside the region of Rome.

250 BCE, One of the first Roman prisons was erected, at Tullianum.


Prisons USA


US prison population, 1974, State and Federal, 221,800. 199,000 in 550 State facilities and 22,800 in 50 Federal facilities. Additionally, 141,000 in 3,921 County and Municipal jails.


1989, Pelican Bay Prison, California, opened as the first US Supermax Prison. By 2005 the US had over 40 Supermax prisons, where inmates had a regime of 23 hours solitary confinement each day. One hour was allowed each day for yard exercise and cafeteria meals.

1988, The US prison population was 800,000.

1983, The US Supreme Court reaffirmed that people cannot be imprisoned for failing to repay debts.

7 May 1980, Paul Geidel, convicted of 2nd degree murder, was released from the Fishkill Correctional Facility (prison) in Beacon, New York, after serving 68 years and 245 days � the longest ever served by a US inmate.

2/2/1980, A 36-hour prison riot began in New Mexico Penitentiary due to overcrowding. 33 inmates died and US$ 25 million damage was done.

9 September 1971, The Attica Prison Riots broke out in Buffalo, New York State, USA. Prisoners demanded better conditions, showers, and access to education, A 4-day siege began, ending with 42 deaths.



21 March 1963. Alcatraz, the notorious prison in San Francisco Bay, was closed. It had been a maximum-security prison since 1934.

4 May 1946, US prison riot at Alcatraz was quelled with the help of the US Marines. After 2 days of unrest, 3 convict ringleaders and 2 guards had been killed, and 14 people injured.

11 August 1934, The first batch of prisoners, classified �most dangerous�, arrived at the new Alcatraz high-security prison in San Francisco Bay.

12 October 1933, The US Department of Justice acquired the Army Disciplinary barracks on Alcatraz island, San Francisco bay, for use as a Federal prison.


1955, In the US, the closure of mental hospital institutions began. As overall State care for the mentally ill shrank, prisons took up much of the slack.

1935, Rikers Island Prison, New York, opened.

1928, Alabama became the last US State to outlaw �convict leasing�.

1927, The first US Federal Women�s Prison opened in Alderson, West Virginia.

21 October 1921, Zebulon Brockway, US prison reformer, died aged 93

1902, (see also USA) Death of John Peter Atgeld (born 1847), who was a prison reformer ahead of his time. A German-born lawyer in Chicago, he was concerned about how the poor found it difficult to access justice. He was elected Governor of Illinois in 1892 and succeeded in passing laws regulating child labour and loosening the monopolies enjoyed by railways and tramways companies. He pardoned three anarchists imprisoned since 1886, and condemned President Cleveland for sending in troops to disrupt a railway strike. However he was then vilified by the press as a �Illinois Jacobin� and was defeated when seeking re-election in 1896.

1901, Parchman Prison, Alabama, opened. With its own plantaion, it was intended to signal trhe end of convict leasing. However from 1912 convicts from Parchman were still leased out to work as servants to the State�s Governors. If they were good workers, they could be pardoned.

1899, The US State of Indiana began forcibly sterilising convicts in prison. By 1941, 36,000 criminals had been sterilised.

1866, In the USA the practice of �convict leasing�, hiring out usually Black male prisoners for private work, began.

1838, In the USA, Federal Law abolished debtor�s prisons, replacing them with bankruptcy law.

1829, In the USA, Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia opened. It was the first �modern� prison; solitary confinement was used, to give prisoners time for reflection and �penitence�. By 1890, major concerns were arising about the number of insane, suicidal, or catatonic prisoners resulting from prolonged solitary confinement.


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