Press Centre

Ross Kemp Behind Bars – Inside Barlinnie

  • Episode: 

    1 of 1

  • Transmission (TX): 

    Thu 02 Nov 2017
  • TX Confirmed: 

  • Time: 

    9.00pm - 10.00pm
  • Week: 

    Week 44 2017 : Sat 28 Oct - Fri 03 Nov
  • Channel: 

  • Status: 

The information contained herein is embargoed from press use, commercial and non-commercial reproduction and sharing into the public domain until Tuesday 24 October 2017.
Ross Kemp Behind Bars – Inside Barlinnie
With unprecedented access, Ross Kemp immerses himself in prison life at the sharp end in HMP Barlinnie in Glasgow.  The iconic prison has a formidable reputation and has served the city for over 130 years.  With privileged and exclusive access to every part of the jail, Ross discovers what it is really like to be an inmate and how prison officers handle the violence, homemade weapons and drugs, which cast a shadow across daily life behind bars.  He discovers what it is like to be a lifer, meets a prisoner preparing for freedom and with trepidation, enters the wing of the prison housing sex offenders, the fastest growing group of inmates in the prison system today.  
Housing around 1250 prisoners over five Victorian halls, Barlinnie has built a notorious reputation.  Falling out with prison officers is not recommended but falling foul of fellow inmates can make your life a living hell.  Inmate Hugh reveals that you don’t grass on others, keep your mouth shut and don’t stare at anyone.  
Hugh says to Ross: “This yard can kick off in two minutes.  It can happen in a heartbeat. Everything can be nice and calm and before you know it [people are] rolling about the ground boxing. People getting slashed and that. People punch you right out of your trainers in here. This is Barlinnie mate.”
Repeat offenders make up a vast percentage of the inmates at Barlinnie.  Ross questions what our prisons are for and who they are serving.  Are they for punishment? Do they contain dangerous people away from the rest of society?  Or are they there to rehabilitate the men and women who live within their walls?  
In 2016 violence in prisons across Britain hit record levels. There were over 7000 assaults on staff and over 20,000 prisoner-on-prisoner attacks.  Ross meets prison officer Stevie who shows him some of the weapons retrieved from searches carried out inside Barlinnie.  Some weapons are made in jail and some are smuggled in using an extreme measure called ‘banking’ where the carrier conceals the weapon in a cavity within their body.  Drugs, mobile phones and other contraband can fetch up to five times that of street prices.  And Stevie reveals that some inmates intentionally get themselves into prison, in order to make money.  
A third of inmates test positive for drugs when leaving jail, with valium, heroin and new psychoactive substances all in demand.  Drug abuse is a huge issue in modern prison life and being caught can result in a disciplinary with the Prison Manager who can issue punishments including loss of TV and recreation, contact with family and confiscation of personal money.  
Ross sits in on a disciplinary hearing and is surprised at how informal the process is.  Once the prisoner admits to his offence of smoking cannabis, the governor reduces his potential penalty to a loss of recreation time and association with other people.    Despite previous allegations of brutality which lead to prisoner riots in 1987, Barlinnie’s current officers appear tough but fair.  
Sex offenders are the fastest growing group of inmates in our prison service today and E Hall in Barlinnie holds up to 280, four times as many as a decade ago.  An increasing number are older in age, as historic abuse claims now go through the courts.  The oldest sex offender in Barlinnie is 89 years of age and needs carers to visit him twice a day. 
One inmate is serving four years for for his third offence of downloading indecent images of children.  He agrees to talk to Ross and in a shocking exchange reveals he believes he will never be cured of his feelings towards children but that he also believes he poses no danger to society.  Ross admits to finding the interview extremely difficult and speaks to officer Donna, who works in E wing, to find out how she copes working in such an environment.  
Donna admits: “I’ve read their trial judge reports and narratives from the courts.  It does affect you obviously because there are things I’ve read that I would rather not have read.  You don’t want that imprint in your head.  I know there are rapists in here and people who would sexually offend against somebody my age or any other male or female officer.  But it’s not something where you think, ‘I come in every day and work with sex offenders who could potentially attack me’.  It takes a certain type of person to come in here and work in an environment like this.  I suppose you could say that the staff who come in here are brave.”
The loss of their freedom is certainly a punishment for most prisoners but Ross is still unsure if the system is successfully rehabilitating its inmates.  He visits Letham Hall, a ‘prison within a prison’, where prisoners from all over Scotland are sent before they are released back into society, after serving lengthy sentences.  One inmate at Letham Hall committed murder and was originally sentenced to 12 years in prison but has now served 18 years behind bars.  Ross asks him why he has served so much time.
The inmate says: “The biggest part is my own fault and it’s drug tests. I’m an addict.  [Before I came to prison] my main thing was dope and I took a couple of eccies [ecstacy] if I was going dancing at the weekend, nothing serious.  The main reason why [I] started taking heroin was because they brought mandatory drugs tests in. And cannabis stays in your system for up to 28 days.  Heroin is out of your system for three days.  It’s hard to wrap your head around a life sentence.  Just take heroin and it blanks everything. Blanks your emotions, blanks your thought patterns. You lie in for days, weeks, months. It turns into years.”
Many of the inmates Ross has met are trapped in a cycle of serving time and reoffending.  He accompanies one inmate, Robert, as he finishes a seven month sentence.  Robert admits he has lost count of how many times he has been incarcerated and that his re-appearances in the prison are like coming through a revolving door.  At a cost of £3000 a month, Robert’s latest stretch in Barlinnie has cost the taxpayer a substantial amount and within a few weeks of him leaving, Ross learns that Robert once again has outstanding charges and his freedom is uncertain.  
He speaks to the Michael Stoney, the prison Governor for his view on the system and the reason the prison population has doubled in the last 25 years.  
Michael says: “We send a lot of people for very short sentences and we effectively can’t do very much. In fact it probably causes more harm. They lose their tenancy, they could lose their job and they lose connection with their family. I would rather it was about changing people [than punishing people].  Certainly we are trying to make prisons work better but we can make it work for those we have here for a bit of time. For those who are just in and out, it’s a pointless exercise.”
Time spent behind bars comes at a cost to both prisoners and our tax paying society.  Ross concludes:  “There are definitely people here who should remain here because of the threat they pose to others and there are some who are here because of one awful mistake that has changed their lives and other peoples’ lives forever.  But the vast majority are repeat offenders trapped in a cycle of substance abuse, violence and criminality and while some of them change there are others that don’t.  What I have found from the prisoners here is that the only person who can truly change them, is themselves.  The big question has to be, are we as a society, doing enough to allow that change to happen?”