HM Prison Dorchester, Dorset
The Daily Mail would have you believe that the country’s prisoners are sat in five-star accommodation with flat-screen TV’s and a Playstation in every room. There’s not much evidence of that in Dorchester prison. It is grim. Pure Victorian detention in all it’s glory – and it’s wonderful!
It’s hard to believe that such a bleak, harsh building could be turned in to 189 homes. But that’s exactly what developers City & Country plan to do. The blueprints look promising & the inclusion of a museum is a nice touch. The site is of important historical & archaeological significance and was also the location of the last public hanging in Dorset. City & Country’s track record with this type of building is thankfully a good one.
Walking up to the main entrance, it’s tall & imposing, and as you go up the stairs there’s quite a condescending motto aimed at anyone about to spend time at her majesty’s pleasure… “Holding the key to a brighter future” – I suspect raised eyebrows from many inmates!
HM Prison Dorchester has two main wings and with room for less than 300 prisoners, at the time of closure in 2013 half were convicted prisoners, and half remanded inmates. Before the doors closed for the final time in 2013, Dorchester prison had a bit of a rollercoaster last few years. 2008 saw the prison labelled “the most improved prison” after suffering with serious drug problems & over-crowding.
The tiny cells are a real eye-opener. And my description of grim is all too true. Damp & blackspot litter the cold, stone block walls, the only heating source is a pipe running down one side of the cell. The metal framed bunk-beds have an air of torture about their features, and in the corner, a stainless steel toilet with nothing but a curtain to divide you from your cellmate. A brief, comical moment of panic sets in as we shut the cell door behind us only to find the all the handles removed, an all too real-to-life experience! The whole wing feels very claustrophobic, with cages all around you and just enough room for one person on the walkways.
A lot of the prison is locked down (unsurprisingly) and difficult to explore fully but as we moved to the outside we noticed a stained glass cross on a higher level. Heading back in we found the chapel, modern in contrast to the interior of other rooms in the prison.
After taking one last walk around the wings to make sure we hadn’t missed anything, we made our way out. A walk that inmates of Dorchester prison would have enjoyed, I’m sure!