Isle of Man Prison Service
The Island’s medieval fortresses also served as the Isle of Man’s first prisons. The crypt at Peel Castle was used as a prison until 1780 when its last inmate, Thomas Kneale, was granted early release. He was considered too weak to serve his full seven day sentence on account of the severe cold! Prisoners, including debtors, then served their sentence at Castle Rushen.
By the late 18th century, Castle Rushen was no longer important as a fortress, Lord’s residence or meeting place for Tynwald but its use as a prison continued. However, after 1765, fines paid in court were no longer used to maintain it and some parts had no roof or floors. Governor Smith (1777-1793) protested to the Home Office that prisoners were exposed to the weather and starving from cold and hunger but it wasn’t until 1813 and 1827 that its rundown buildings were converted to make it a secure jail.
Occasionally a death sentence was given and John Kewish, found guilty of murder, was hanged on a scaffold in the Debtors’ Yard in 1872. His body was buried in the stone yard.
Women serving sentences could bring their infants into prison and occasionally babies were born there. Food – milk, bread and beef tea – was provided for babies aged three to nine months where the Medical Officer considered the nursing powers of the mother to be defective.
Unless prisoners were too ill they were expected to work and produce a set amount each day. Goods produced included mats, matting and scrubbers, stone breaking and oakum picking (picking out fibres from old rope so they could be re-used).
By the 1880s it was obvious that Castle Rushen was not adequate to house in good conditions the number of prisoners in custody. There was no possibility of separating prisoners and it was very hard to keep order. The first inspection by the Chairman of the Commissioners for Prisons in England and Wales took place in 1885. His report recommended that a new prison should be built for 30 prisoners and, although some members of Tynwald were against spending money on this, a site was chosen at Victoria Road, Douglas, and the prison was designed by Manx architect James Cowle.
The new prison had an impressive red brick frontage but was built mainly of stone. The Gaoler, Mr Fayle, had his living quarters and offices at the front gate with the main prison block inside the prison yard, surrounded by high walls. On the northern side were three warders’ cottages and gardens. The building was in use from April 1891.
In 1903, HM Inspector of Prisons Major Darnell stated that: ‘The present accommodation consists of 21 cells in the male, and 8 cells in the female prison. The cells are light and airy, and well ventilated and compare quite favourably with those in the best English prisons – boarded floors, clear glass in the windows and external gas boxes. They were uniformly clean and well kept.’
Since then the prison population has risen steadily, along with the Island population. Two new wings, C and D, were opened in July 1989 by the then Minister of Home Affairs, the Hon A Callin MHK.
C wing was opened as a Detention Centre to house Young Prisoners (aged 17 to 21) and contained 19 single cells and 2 dormitories which could hold an additional 18 detainees. The role of C wing was subsequently changed to adult accommodation and currently houses 19 male adult prisoners. The use of the dormitories as accommodation ceased and one now provides a dining room and the other is the prison’s weights/exercise room.
D wing was the female wing and provided 5 single cells and an additional 10 places in 2 dormitories in a building separate from the male accommodation. It continues to provide accommodation for female prisoners although the number has been reduced to 11 places in total.
Even with the additional accommodation, Island authroties were aware by the end of the 20th century that the prison population and modern requirements could no longer be met by the Victoria Road prison.
In July 2005 Tynwald gave the go-ahead for the construction of a new prison at Jurby, to replace the Victorian prison in Douglas.
The new prison was the Isle of Man Government’s largest capital project 2005-2008, built at a cost of £41.7million. It became operational on August 14, 2008. It has a maximum of 138 cells compared with 92 places at Victoria Road (including 11 female places). The new prison provides rehabilitative and educational regimes for prisoners.