Approximately 84,000 people were being held in UK prisons in January 2013, according to the Ministry of Justice. Reports in the media often debate conditions inside prisons, discussing the popular public perception that life in Britain's penal system is too easy. The true picture is, however, more complex. Although UK prisoners may an easier time of it than inmates in some other countries, Britain's prisons are no holiday parks.
When you arrive in prison, you will be allocated to a cell which you will have to share with an least one other inmate. Prison life follows a strict timetable with specified times for eating, exercising and working. Prison guards will check on the well-being of prisoners throughout the day, with the frequency of checks depending on the security level of the prison and the vulnerability of the prisoners. Prisoners are normally allowed a small amount of money to spend on a selection of groceries, stationery and toiletries for personal use each week. They can also purchase stamps and phone credit to stay in touch with friends and family.
Prison guards can punish prisoners who break the rules. Such punishments can include confining a prisoner in his cell for up to 21 days or adding up to an extra 42 days to his original sentence. The authorities may also decide to take away some of the privileges the prisoner is entitled to. These privileges vary from prison to prison, but may include televisions in cells and visits from family. Even when being punished, prisoners have the right to at least 30 minutes outside in the open air each day.
Prisoners are entitled to the same level of healthcare as everybody else in the UK. Although not every prison has a hospital, most have a healthcare team that is able to deal with basic health problems. If prisoners experience more serious health problems, supervised treatment can be arranged in an outside hospital. Vulnerable prisoners receive support from mental health specialists and have access to confidential emotional support.
Educational opportunities are widely available in UK prisons. Most offer a range of courses to inmates, starting with basic literacy and numeracy skills and progressing to courses which result in qualifications such as GCSEs. Prisoners also have the chance to learn vocational skills, such as gardening or woodwork. When a prisoner ultimately leaves prison, these new skills may help him find employment.