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It's one of the worst prisons in Britain - so why is it expanding?
The Wigan prison set to double in size, plus the rest of your weekly briefing
Dear Millers — welcome to this week’s briefing. Plans to expand HMP Hindley, a prison for men and young offenders in Wigan, have come under scrutiny. We hear from the criminologist leading the charge against the expansion, who says: “It’s one of the worst prisons in the country and we shouldn’t be expanding it.“ That’s on top of our usual round-up of the headlines, to-do list and our first ever sponsor. Enjoy.
On Saturday, we published Dani’s fascinating piece about bog bodies, the phenomenon of centuries-old corpses being preserved in peat bogs. “Bogs are acidic and have pH levels similar to vinegar. Any cadaver that ends up in one ends up getting pickled,” Dani writes. She speaks with Dr Melanie Giles, senior lecturer in archaeology at the University of Manchester, about the circumstances in which the corpses turn up in bogs and the ethical dilemma of exhibiting their remains in museums. Read about it here.
Last week members got a beautiful and intimate account of a south Manchester family’s iftar — the breaking of the daily fast during Ramadan — and a whistle-stop tour of the boroughs keeping local councillors up at night as the May elections draw near. This week they’re hearing from the professor putting cognitive behavioural therapy to the test, and taking a look around the home of the Manchester Buddhist Centre’s chairperson, Silabodhi.
For the first time ever, today's briefing has a sponsor. They’re a new independent broadband provider called Brsk, who are rolling out speedy broadband across Stockport and south Manchester, and you can read more about them by scrolling down. For a while, we’d been planning to find sponsors for our Monday briefings, so that we can generate a bit more funding for The Mill and start to generate some income from the 93% of our readers who do not pay for a membership.
Then someone from Brsk, who is a longtime Miller, got in touch, which felt like kismet. Revenue from readers, in the form of memberships, will always be our main revenue model, but we don't want to be reliant on one source of income. Most of the successful high-quality media companies out there right now — like the New York Times, the Economist, and the FT — are primarily funded by subscriptions, but also run some non-obtrusive advertising, so that feels like a good path for us too. Of course, we won't ever plaster our newsletters with ads, and we won't work with companies which we plan to report on. But if you're a company or organisation that would like to support our work and also reach the 20,000 most discerning people in Greater Manchester for the frankly insane knockdown price of £1,500 per month (sponsoring four Monday briefings), please get in touch.
Please be warned though: sponsoring the most highly engaged and beloved newsletter in England comes with risks. We will not provide extra security at your door when you are inundated with excess demand for whatever it is you are promoting. That's on you. To become one of our first-ever sponsors, just email email@example.com, and wait a few days for him to come back from holiday.
This week’s weather ⛅️
Our weather forecast comes from local weatherman Martin Miles, who says: “There will be a lot of dry weather this week, however temperatures will be cool and skies will often be cloudy.”
Tuesday ☁️ Predominantly cloudy and cool. Odd spot of rain PM. Max 13°c.
Wednesday ⛅️ Dry with occasional bright spells. Max 13°c.
Thursday ☁️ Mostly cloudy and chilly for the time of year. Max 12°c.
Weekend ⛅️ No big change for the Friday and the bank holiday weekend. Conditions will be mostly dry with largely cloudy skies and cool temperatures.
Home of the week
This delightful two-bedroom cottage in Bury has countryside views and a bright, refurbished interior. It’s on the market for £290,000.
Government plans to expand prison are a ‘terrible mistake’
Top line: Proposals submitted by the government to expand HMP Hindley, a category C prison for male offenders, have come under scrutiny. HMP Hindley, in Wigan, currently has space for 694 prisoners and the plans would almost double that amount to 1,134. But a criminologist has criticised the plans — as the Wigan Post first reported — casting doubt on the government’s predictions of a ballooning prison population.
Why is this happening? The expansion is part of a government plan to expand and refurbish 16 prisons across the UK, as well as build six new ones. The government predicts the UK prison population will increase by nearly 20,000 by the mid 2020s.
HMP Hindley, one of four male prisons in Greater Manchester, is the only one in the region set to expand. It opened in 1961 as a borstal, the old name for a youth detention centre. It became a joint prison and young offenders institution in 1997, and in 2015 was reclassified as a category C prison for young offenders and adult males serving sentences of up to four years.
“I would say there is a stronger case for Hindley to be closed than for it to be expanded,” says Dr David Scott, senior lecturer in criminology at the Open University, referring to the prison’s poor performance in recent years.
In 2016, HMP Hindley’s regime was described as “one of the worst and possibly one of the very worst that inspectors had ever seen in this type of prison”, in a watchdog report. The prison inspectorate found mouldy food, filthy cells and a high level of violence, but singled out how the prison’s regime included regular shutdowns where inmates were locked in cells for over 24 hours at a time.
During an unannounced visit in 2020, the prison inspectorate found staffing to be extremely stretched and a lack of any strategy to reduce violence on the wings.
The move to expand HMP Hindley indicates desperation at the Ministry of Justice to create more prison space, according to Dr Scott. Consecutive plans to build “mega prisons” in Wigan and Chorley were derailed by local campaigners in 2017 and 2022. “Hindley is only on the cards because the mega prison in Chorley was rejected.”
Scott also points out the government’s poor form for predicting prison population growth. In the early 2010s the government predicted the prison population would increase from 85,000 to over 100,000. In fact, it stabilised. Scott goes on to say:
It would be a terrible mistake to almost double the size of the prison based on government data alone, especially as this new build will be on greenbelt.
Wigan council, which has received the government’s proposal, says it would have to meet “special circumstances” in order to be approved, as building on the greenbelt would affect wildlife and increase traffic.
The Ministry of Justice denied that the expansion would encroach on greenbelt land, and would keep within the prison’s existing perimeter:
The plans for HMP Hindley are part of our £4bn investment to create 20,000 modern prison places to help better rehabilitate offenders and cut crime.
🕵️♀️ We’re listening
If you’ve got a story, an idea for a story, or some information you’d like to share, do feel free to drop by our office on St Ann’s Square for a cup of tea. Or, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. We are always happy to speak to people off the record in the first instance, and we will treat your information with confidence and sensitivity.
Local news in brief
Neri Morse has been named as the man killed in a stabbing in Ancoats. The 24-year-old was one of two attacked on Pollard Street, near New Islington. The second man, also believed to be in his 20s, has not been named and remains in hospital. Rushaun Brown, a 23-year-old from Ardwick, was charged with murder over the weekend. A second 23-year old remains in police custody. More here.
Angela Rayner, MP for Ashton-under-Lyne, dismissed allegations by anonymous Tory MPs that she was attempting to “put the PM off his stride,” by crossing her legs. Rayner said the “perverted smear” typified the misogyny experienced by women in politics. Boris Johnson has apologised to Rayner. More here.
On Saturday, Oldham Athletic football club was relegated from the English Football League after a 2-1 defeat against Salford City. With 14 minutes of the match left to play, Oldham fans stormed the pitch and refused to leave, revealing a banner that read: “get out of our club,” directed at Oldham’s owner Abdallah Lemsagam. More here.
Rates of Covid-19 are falling in Greater Manchester. The region’s daily infection rate is 169 new cases per 100,000 people, a drop of 30.7% from last week. In England, the daily infection rate is 204.2 new cases per 100,000 people, down 36.3%. In Greater Manchester rates are highest in Stockport and lowest in Oldham. Over the weekend, the FT reported that rates of Covid-19 are falling in every UK nation for the first time since January.
Lightning-fast broadband comes to town
This briefing is sponsored by Brsk, a new independent broadband provider whose engineers are currently installing lightning-fast internet connections across the south of Greater Manchester. If you live in Stockport, Didsbury, Withington, or the Heatons (or anywhere in that neck of the woods) you will soon be able to get your broadband via 100% fibre optic cables, with prices starting at £25 a month. Someone at Brsk is a longtime Miller and they wanted to both support us and spread the good news about their work to upgrade and future-proof the city’s digital infrastructure. Brsk’s CEO Giorgio Lovino told us: “We can’t wait for residents and businesses to experience 1 gigabit full fibre broadband into their home, a major upgrade from their existing copper based broadband services.” Click here to find out more and register your interest, or call 0330 0886947.
Our favourite reads
Kinder Scout 90 years on — The Guardian
Anita Sethi joined the groups emulating the Kinder Scout mass trespass, 90 years after the original trespassers — known as the Manchester Ramblers — staged their walk across private land in protest of how little of the countryside the public could access. The Ramblers wanted the “right to roam,” almost a century later their wish remains unfulfilled; only 8% of England is accessible to the public. Sethi highlights how this inaccessibility is sharpened for minorities — a Natural England study found that just 1% of national park visitors are from BAME backgrounds — and writes about her own experiences of using nature to heal: “The first time I walked in the footsteps of the Kinder Scout mass trespassers was after being racially abused on a TransPennine journey by a man who told me to go back to where I’m from — and so I did: I’m from the north and decided to make a journey of reclamation walking the Pennine Way.”
This profile of the talismanic DJ Carl Cox — by writer and longtime Miller Ed Caesar — includes some colourful descriptions of The Warehouse Project, held at Mayfield Depot near Piccadilly Train Station. “Young men with muscles were stripped to the waist. Women in lurid cycling shorts, sports bras, and angular sunglasses held hands in the middle of the crowd, emitting radiant smiles. One guy, pressed against the front railings, looked as if he’d like to drive a tank through a prison wall.”
Brian Lomas’ images of Manchester’s independent shops in the 1980s — Creative Review
A beautiful collection of photos by Manchester photographer Brian Lomas captures a time when high streets were the centre of many local communities, when shopkeepers knew their customers by name and most shops were family run. Lomas said the shopfronts were already seeping with nostalgia when he first photographed them in the early ‘80s: “Even then, many of these shops seemed out of their time, with their quirky and characteristic details – shopfronts with old signage, old-fashioned style shop tills and traditional weighing scales.”
Seeing and believing — Aeon Magazine
This long read from 2013 by author Stuart Walton asks why sightings of UFOs, poltergeists and other stalwarts of the supernatural have declined. It’s a question rooted in his own sighting of a UFO above his Fallowfield bedsit. “It was sparkling-silver and covered all over with a regular pattern of flashing white lights. After hovering for a few seconds, it began to move across the sky, and as it reached the right-hand frame of my window, I leant over the side of the bed to keep it in view.”
Things to do
🎤 Sounds from the Other City Festival, Salford’s annual music and arts festival, returns this Sunday. It’s a great way to discover some local up-and-coming artists, who will be performing at some beautiful venues like the cobbled Bexley Square and St Philip’s Church. More info here.
📚 Fernanda Melchor, the author of Hurricane Season, will be in conversation with Xavier Aldana Reyes about her latest novel Paradais at Blackwell’s on Tuesday. The book has been long-listed for the international Booker prize and, like Hurricane Season, it focuses on murder, abuse, poverty and the urge to escape. It’s been called a “queasy read”. Starts at 6.30pm. Book here.
🖼 On Thursday, the Placemaking Piccadilly Exhibition is opening at HOME. The exhibition will look at how Piccadilly Gardens can become more inclusive and is the sum of months of creative consultation workshops. There will also be a community tapestry: hundreds of drawings of Piccadilly accompanied by interviews with Mancunians about their experiences of the gardens. Starts at 4pm. Register here.
✍ The University of Bolton has a New Writing Showcase tomorrow. It’s to be an “exciting evening of live poetry, fiction and drama,” all written by University of Bolton students. Starting at 7pm. Book here.
🎉 Chorlton Community Arts Festival starts on Friday, featuring 983 artists and 169 events across 60 local venues, including Chorlton Book Shop, The Font and Northstar Deli. Info here.
Letters to the editor
You educate us all, which is the best thing ever. The more we know the more we understand. (‘Finally, I can eat!’). Janet
I wonder if there were ever any stories/folklore surrounding Chat Moss when the Liverpool to Manchester railway was built in 1830? Were the navvies afraid to work there as the rails were laid over the drained Moss. I have seen Lindow Man in the BM (‘The North’s wondrous dead). A strange encounter to say the least and quite unlike anything I've seen before. Yes we're so used to seeing leather on furniture etc but you know it's a human and therefore unsettling. Anne, West Midlands