Bar­lin­nie is like no other prison

Pre­sen­ter re­veals re­port­ing from world’s war zones pre­pared him for go­ing be­hind bars in Scot­land

The Sunday Post (Dundee) - - News - By Bill Gibb BGIBB@SUNDAYPOST.COM

Ross Kemp has been to some of the most dan­ger­ous places on earth.

The ac­tor has boldly gone where most would fear to tread, from de­tail­ing dev­as­ta­tion in the war zones of Afghanistan and Syria to con­fronting gun-tot­ing gang­sters in Las Ve­gas and New Or­leans.

How­ever, Kemp ad­mits that go­ing be­hind the bars of Scot­land’s Bar­lin­nie prison was some­thing spe­cial.

He filmed in the Glas­gow jail as part of ITV’s Crime and Pun­ish­ment sea­son.

Kemp said: “I’ve been to Afghanistan a num­ber of times and last year I was in Libya, Syria and Iraq and this wasn’t like go­ing into a prison in El Sal­vador or Venezuela.

“So I have been to lots of scary places. But there is an edge to Bar­lin­nie.

“It has a rep­u­ta­tion for a rea­son and Glas­gow is a tough town with some tough peo­ple in it. I like the city’s rep­u­ta­tion, but I had to do a self de­fence course be­fore I went in.

“There’s al­ways a propen­sity for vi­o­lence in pris­ons as a lot of in­mates don’t con­sider the re­sults of their ac­tions.”

To get a flavour of life as an in­mate, Ross was put through a prisoner’s ad­mis­sion process on ar­rival at the jail.

“I was hand­cuffed, had my pho­to­graph taken and was asked about my men­tal health.

“I then had to strip naked be­low the waist to make sure I didn’t have any­thing se­creted.

“Stand­ing there with some­one wear­ing a uni­form look­ing at you is hu­mil­i­at­ing.”

De­spite the prison’s rep­u­ta­tion, Ross says he was, on the whole, warmly wel­comed.

He got used to be­ing called Grant after his EastEn­ders char­ac­ter and when ban­ter turned to abuse, other in­mates stepped in.

“At one stage some­one was scream­ing at me when I was in the ex­er­cise yard. Then a guy who clearly had some clout told him in so un­cer­tain terms to be quiet as I was only do­ing my job.”

His pro­gramme – screened at on ITV at 9pm on Thurs­day – in­ves­ti­gates how drugs and mo­bile phones are smug­gled into jails, from be­ing con­cealed in body cav­i­ties to be­ing thrown over the walls.

The drug prob­lem at Bar­lin­nie, is so bad, pris­on­ers get through 100 litres of methadone a week, mak­ing it Europe’s largest dis­penser of the heroin substitute.

Drugs are also smug­gled in­side the jail in in­creas­ingly in­ge­nious ways. Chil­dren’s paint­ings, sup­pos­edly taken in to cheer up in­mates, had been found to have Val­ium in the blue skies.

And now-il­le­gal highs were sprayed on love let­ters sent in to in­mates who then cut them up and sold them to other pris­on­ers to smoke.

He said: “I was told dog ball-throw­ers were used. If you see some­one prac­tic­ing with one on a field with no dog around, they’re only do­ing it for one rea­son.

“The drugs go for five times what they do on the street, so some peo­ple go to prison on pur­pose, smug­gling in, to make money.”

Ross, best known in re­cent years for his Ex­treme World doc­u­men­taries for Sky, also dis­cov­ered the ever-present sense of vi­o­lence

Vi­o­lence in British pris­ons hit record lev­els in 2016 with more than 7000 as­saults on staff and over 20,000 prisoner-on-prisoner at­tacks.

In 1987, Bar­lin­nie, known as the Bar-L, was the scene of ma­jor ri­ot­ing which in­mates claimed was sparked by prison of­fi­cer bru­tal­ity. Ross says times have changed. “Gone are the days when prison of­fi­cers

took you into a cell and gave you a beat­ing,” he said.

“But the days when an­other prisoner will slash you aren’t gone. Or you might be met in the show­ers with a 12in piece of Per­spex that’s been sharp­ened into a point.

“I saw a lot of peo­ple with life-chang­ing head in­juries.”

Ross, 53, also told of his re­vul­sion at meet­ing child sex of­fend­ers.

He came face-to-face with a man jailed for view­ing on­line im­ages of chil­dren be­ing sex­u­ally as­saulted and said: “I did find the in­ter­view very dif­fi­cult.

“He didn’t feel he’d done any­thing wrong be­cause he’d never ac­tu­ally touched a child. I found that very hard to cope with, as a fa­ther.

“He’ll be at lib­erty in the not too dis­tant fu­ture and I have to ques­tion if that’s a good thing.”

Sex of­fend­ers are the fastest­grow­ing group of in­mates and the wing they are held in at Bar­lin­nie houses up to 280 pris­on­ers.

That’s four times as many as a decade ago.

They are housed in E Hall and Ross says it’s un­like any of the other parts of the 135-year-old prison which holds around 1250 pris­on­ers.

“It sounds dif­fer­ent and it smells dif­fer­ent. B Hall has the sweet smell of roadkill, crossed with cab­bage, old school din­ners and blocked drains.

“E Hall doesn’t have any of those smells and there’s no sound of doors be­ing kicked or the oc­ca­sional shouts and screams.

“I just heard the faint sound of clas­si­cal mu­sic leak­ing out from be­hind one of the cell doors.”

Lat­est fig­ures in Scot­land show that al­most 30% of pris­on­ers re-of­fend within a year of their re­lease.

And that rises to 60% with pris­on­ers sen­tenced to three months or less.

The pro­gramme fea­tures in­mates for whom prison has be­come such a way of life that they would re­peat­edly get into trou­ble to get back in­side. “We wanted to ask if pris­ons work and what is their pur­pose,” said Ross, who has four chil­dren, in­clud­ing three with wife Re­nee O’Brien. “Why has the prison pop­u­la­tion dou­bled in the last 25 years?

“And why do we have a re­volv­ing door prison sys­tem that costs us a for­tune?

“It costs £36,000 a year to keep some­one in prison and that’s way above what we pay a ju­nior prison of­fi­cer to go in and risk an as­sault ev­ery day.

“But if any­one thinks it’s an easy life for a prisoner, then think again. I’m telling you that you don’t want to end up in prison.”

Ross with his wife, Re­nee

Pris­on­ers ri­oted at Bar­lin­nie in 1987, com­plain­ing about the al­leged bru­tal con­di­tions in the prison

Smug­glers of­ten use dog ball­catch­ers to get drugs in­side

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