A new book provides a scathing look back at “all the things that went wrong” in prison history in England.

Available today (April 8) Prison Governor’s Journal, by Brendan O’Friel, provides fresh insights into the workings of prisons – including examples of unusual events - and raises new and difficult “unanswered questions”.

Among those questions is why pre-emptive action was not taken to prevent the riots of April 1986, in which the-then young offender establishment at Erlestoke Prison was considerably damaged. Around 40 people escaped from the facility, and 16 remained at large the following day. The riots followed a decision to take industrial action by prison officers. The Chief Inspector of Prisons said that the riots, which took place in other English prisons as well, were the “worst night of violence that the English Prison Service had ever known”.

Strangeways riot

Strangeways riot

The Secretary of State for the Home Department at the time, Mr. Douglas Hurd, had said in the Commons: "I reported to the House last night on events at Lewes and Northeye prisons. Disruption continued there during the night, but the situation has now been brought under control, though at both establishments, and particularly at Northeye near Bexhill, there has been extensive damage to buildings. Police intervention was necessary at Bristol to regain control of one wing of the prison, and at Erlestoke youth custody centre, near Devizes, some 40 trainees made a mass breakout and some 16 are still at large. The other serious incident was at Wymott, near Chorley, where there was a major disturbance but where staff gradually were able to regain control. A number of lesser incidents took place at 12 other prison establishments."

In 1993, the Prison Service sought and obtained a Court Injunction preventing prison officers from taking industrial action.

Mr O’Friel, former Chairman of the Prison Governor’s Association, also writes about life within all seven of the penal establishments in which he himself served, including the “explosion of evil” - his story of the Strangeways riot of April 1990, in Manchester.

The 25-day ordeal, which included a rooftop protest, began when prisoners took control of the prison chapel, and the riot quickly spread throughout most of the prison.

Prison Governor’s Journal was a work, he explained, 25 years in the making.

“I retired from the prison service in 1995," he said. "A lot of people said to me that I should write down some of my experiences, especially my side of the Strangeways story which was something that interested quite a lot of people.

“I put quite a lot of material down, and had another go in 2015 when I did a BBC TV programme about the 25th anniversary of the riots. What actually spurred my on to finish it was when a number of my grandchildren started to ask some really good questions, questions that needed a proper answer.

“When lockdown hit last year, I was really concerned about the impact the pandemic would have on the prison service - which encouraged me to finish the book.

"The incident at Erlestoke could have easily been avoided if the Home Office had had the guys to take on the Prison Officers Association and say they hadn't the right to take industrial action. We had this massive escape at Erlestoke because they didn't."

Mr O’Friel also raises new questions about the origins of prison overcrowding, both in the past and in the future.

The book includes illustrations, cartoons, line drawings and verse, some of these the work of prisoners at Risley.

Further details about the book can be found at www.prisongovernorjournal.com