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HM Prison Brixton is a local men's prison, located in Brixtonmarker area of the London Borough of Lambethmarker, in inner-South Londonmarker, Englandmarker. The prison is operated by Her Majesty's Prison Service.


The prison was originally built in 1820 and opened as the Surrey House of Correction, Brixton Prison was intended to house 175 prisoners. However, regularly exceeding its capacity supporting over 200 prisoners, overcrowding was an early problem and with its small cells and poor living conditions contributed to its reputation as one of the worst prisons in London (worsened when Brixton become one of the first prisons to introduce treadwheels in 1821).

Conditions for women were especially harsh as newly arrived female inmates were made to spend four months in solitary confinement and, following her introduction into the general prison population, would be required to maintain a condition of silent association. Female inmates were allowed over time to earn privileges, which included limited conversation, payment for labor, the right to receive letters and visitation rights.

Eventually the problem of overcrowding was addressed with the prison expanding to house over 800 prisoners and, in 1853, the British government converted Brixton into a women's correctional facility for women who preferred imprisonment rather than penal transportation to Australia (although female inmates who had become pregnant were also transferred to Brixton from Millbank Prisonmarker).

Conditions in the prison gradually improved during the mid-19th century as a nursery was opened in the prison for children under the age of four and, by 1860, inmates were allowed to keep their children until the end of their prison sentence. Brixton eventually became a military prison from 1882 until 1898 and remains a trial-and-remand prison for London and the Home Counties. Conditions inside the prison today are still grim, due to Crown Immunity, normal health and safety regulations are not binding, when the cell doors shut in the evenings all the wings in the communal areas are overrun with mice and rats. The footings for the treadmill remain and are visible and the former 'hanging ie execution suite' is now an enlarged cell with six beds.

Recent history

In October 1999, Prisons Minister, Paul Boateng had to make an emergency visit to Brixton Prison after a spate of multiple suicide attempts by inmates being held in the medical wards of the jail. The minister subsequently promised more nurses and staff for the prison's healthcare unit. A month later, Boateng threatened to privatise Brixton Prison if improvements were not made by management to the regime and conditions at the jail. In August 2000, prison officers from all over the UK staged an illegal strike after the government released proposals confirming intentions to privatise Brixton Prison.

In January 2001, an inspection report from Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons severely criticised conditions at Brixton Prison, and claimed staff had falsified records and tried to sabotage the inspection.

The prison today

HMP Brixton's primary role is to serve the local magistrates courts, as well as Inner London Crown Courts in holding remand and trial prisoners and temporarily lodging prisoners appearing at the Court of Appeal Criminal Division (COACD) held at the Royal Courts of Justice (RCJ). Accommodation at Brixton comprises of four main residential units, plus a health care unit. A new Kitchen is currently being built and plans are in discussion to replace the Reception, Healthcare, & Sports complex.

Inmates can pursue a range of education courses at the Learning and Skills centre. These courses include Information Technology, English, Maths, Social and Life Skills and a varied art programme. Most courses lead to nationally recognised qualifications. The gym also offers Physical Education and accredited programmes. There are no traditional workshops.

The Family and Visitor's Centre at Brixton is run by the Prison Advice & Care Trust (pact), an independent charity.

HMP Brixton is no longer the remand prison for Southwark Crown Court, this is now the job of HMP Wandsworth.

Notable former inmates

Further reading

  • Babington, Anthony. The English Bastille: A History of Newgate Gaol and Prison Conditions in Britain, 1188-1902. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1971.
  • Herber, Mark. Criminal London: A Pictorial history from Medieval Times to 1939. Chichester, UK: Phillimore, 2002.


  • Roth, Mitchel P. Prisons and Prison Systems: A Global Encyclopedia. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2006. ISBN 0-313-32856-0

External links

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