Prison, Channel 4, 9pm, produced and directed by Paddy Wivell.


Durham Prison in the North East of England holds around 950 inmates on any given day. In the first episode there were no real surprises, apart from the prisoner that managed to smuggle a phone inside up his arse. He freely admitted to it on camera. There’s a kind of world-weary tone between the film crew, the young lags on the wing and the prison staff. We know there is not enough prison staff, because that’s what the prison officers tell the viewers.

Cost-cutting means that where there used to be a dog unit searching for drugs on ever wing, is now shared over the whole prison population of around 4000 prisoners. Dogs need to be booked in and out, like prisoners and visitors, which what they are. An epidemic of the psychoactive substance ‘Spice’ shows who is boss, when those that are importing it into the wing are kinda stopped in their tracks, but not really. Some other mug takes the hit when drugs are found in one young con’s cell. He winks conspiratorially at the camera.  Prisoners know who is in charge and it’s not staff who try and often fail to hold the line.

The second episode is about mental health. Prison and not hospital is where most people with mental health issues end up. Paddy asks a leading question to show this. He asks the mental health nurse how many of the inmates had mental health problems. She estimated about 600 of 950. Most of them self-harm.

This episode focuses on three of them. Chris, James and lets call the last guy Stig. Stig has been diagnosed with a personality disorder. He bounces in and out of Durham Prison. His latest arrest for stealing a fishing rod. After wrecking his cell, twice, keeping the prisoners in the block beside him up all night, threatening to throw shite at the officers and having a history of covering himself in shite and cutting himself, everyone in prison is weary of him. Paddy asks him about these constant demands.

‘I don’t give a fuck, me. I care about me.’

Durham Prison’s problem is they have a duty of care. They need to use very limited resources to care for Stig and giving him the attention he craves reinforces his negative behaviour. Stig knows this and plays the system. Ironically, the only place of safety Stig can find is in Durham Prison.

James, his fellow prisoner, hears voices and refuses to eat because he thinks officers are trying to poison him. He thinks everyone is out to get him, and cuts himself. Durham has a limited number of beds on I Wing. This mental health unit is paid for by the NHS. As you can imagine, only the very worst of the worst can get a bed in I Wing. James gets one of the eleven beds, but, later, kills himself.

Chris is the upbeat note the programme ends on. The team on the unit are able to get him sectioned and he is sectioned (locked up again) in a Durham mental health unit when he leaves and is given a NHS bed. Another inmate is shown leaving with the mandatory £46 and that’s it. Good luck with that pal.

America jails more people than all the other nations on earth combined. We’re going the same way and love to do it on the cheap. Bring in those corporations that warehouse people. Check them in and check them out. The war on drugs is great for corporate profits.

Our local prison Barlinnie, in Glasgow, was made to renovate its cell blocks after a prisoner took them to the European Court of Human Rights for having to piss and shit in a bucket. Sloping out was upheld as contradicting his human rights. Now we’re no longer in the European Union I’m sure we can go back to sloping out. That shows how little money is spent on prisons and how we like to treat prisoners.  Simple, it’s shameful. Durham Prison shows how we get some things right, but the system is so fucked up it helps no one.  What are prisons for?