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An insight into 'Britain's cushiest jail' as former inmate at controversial super prison HMP Berwyn speaks out

Christopher spent 11 months at HMP Berwyn

It has been called Britain’s 'cushiest' jail.

A former inmate at HMP Berwyn has lifted the lid on life behind bars at the controversial north Wales super prison.

Christopher was released in May after serving eleven months for assault.

He was moved to HMP Berwyn from Walton prison in Liverpool. He told ITV News was shocked at the lack of discipline at the Wrexham prison.

Christopher claims drugs are widely available and the prison would often resemble a house party at weekends

The jail needs to be run more like a jail, at the moment it’s being run like a youth club.

– Christopher, former inmate at Berwyn prison
The prison, which can hold more than 2000 inmates, opened in 2017

“If you ask anyone in Berwyn they’ll all tell you the same", he said.

Since it opened in February 2017, the regime at HMP Berwyn has caused controversy.

2106
number of prisoners Berwyn can hold
1301
current number of prisoners at Berwyn

Cells are called rooms and prisoners are referred to as men.

The prison provides inmates with laptops, with a restricted internal internet, and telephones in their individual rooms.

Despite these attempts at progressive rehabilitation, HMP Berwyn faces problems that are common in more traditional prisons.

Twelve months ago, the Independent Monitoring Board published its first report on Berwyn which stated that a prevalence of illegal drugs at the prison was "the most common cause of prisoner violence".

Christopher said hard drugs are still readily available at the prison.

If you want cocaine you can get cocaine if you want crack you can get crack if you want heroin you can get heroin, if you want cannabis you can get cannabis.

– Christopher, former inmate at Berwyn prison

"There wasn't much difference sometimes between being in Berwyn to being at home in a party on weekends.

"Your doors were open you were in people’s pads, the music was loud, the ale was there, there were drugs available.”

Christopher’s main concern was what he described as a "lack of control" by inexperienced prison officers.

"As it stands the staff have got no respect off the inmates in there and that’s dangerous."

89%
of prison staff at Berwyn are in the first two years of training

A recent report by the Welsh Affairs Committee on Prison Provision in Wales revealed 89% of prison staff at Berwyn are in the first two years of training.

According to the Prison Officers Association, more than 80 prison officers have resigned over the last 12 months.

The Ministry of Justice disputed that claim to ITV News, but are yet to provide their own figures.

POA national chair Mark Fairhust said:

"Since 2010 we’ve lost over 7000 frontline prisoner jobs and they were experienced staff with a lot of skills that are needed to keep order and control in prison.

"We’ve exhausted the recruitment pool in north Wales and now we see very young inexperienced officers joining HMP berwyn with very few experienced staff to guide them.|

In response to the points raised by Christopher the MOJ said:

“Independent monitors have praised the work of staff at HMP Berwyn describing their efforts to establish a new prison as a ‘considerable achievement’.

“Unfortunately, drug use is an issue affecting prisons across the country which is why we are taking unprecedented action and spending millions of pounds to tackle it. That includes our new investigative team working with the police to disrupt the organised crime fueling drug smuggling and, at HMP Berwyn, dedicated search teams, sniffer dogs and high-tech scanners.

“Violence against our hardworking staff is not tolerated and we are giving prison officers body-worn cameras, police-style restraints and PAVA incapacitant spray to allow them to do their jobs more safely.”