On Thursday, I visited two prisons – HMP Downview and HMP High Down. I was there as part of the inquiry by the Joint Committee on the Draft Voter Eligibility (Prisoners) Bill. HMP Downview (pictured) is a women’s prison and HMP High Down is a category B men’s prison. They are basically next door to one another, so it was easy to move between the two. We met in each a group of prisoners serving a range of terms (plus one on remand) as well as officials and staff. Each meeting had rather the flavour of a seminar (with tea and biscuits included) and in each the prisoners were engaged as well as articulate. They were clearly interested in the subject and a substantial number voted in elections prior to their incarcaration.
The meetings were extremely illuminating. There was also one feature that was distinctive to High Down. It has a restaurant known as the Clink. It is run as a charitable venture to involve prisoners and reduce the risk of re-offending. The restaurant itself is plush, open to the public and offers a remarkably high quality of service and cuisine. You can read more details here. One of the MPs on the committee started her career in the prison service. As she observed, prison food wasn’t like that in her day!
I found the visits both fascinating in themselves – it was my first time in a prison – as well as valuable for the purpose of our inquiry. The prisoners advanced a clear argument in support of their case to be enfranchised.