North Sea Camp feature: In-depth look at life in HMP North Sea Camp

Alsion Turner, deputy governor at North Sea Camp open prison
Alsion Turner, deputy governor at North Sea Camp open prison

I HAVE never been to prison before. I’ve never needed to and I have never done anything to warrant such action being taken.

So, after writing about the planned expansion, being invited to North Sea Camp, I was a little nervous about what I might find – we have all seen the supposed horrors from TV dramas.

The thing that immediately struck me, following rigorous front gate security checks, is there is no fence... no physical boundary – but as I was to find out, plenty acted as a detterent from running.

Our guide was deputy governor Alison Turner, who has worked in a variety of prisons during her working life.

She said she thought most of the 370 prisoners stayed because of the threat of action if caught straying outside the boundaries – if inmates do ,they face going back to closed conditions.

“It’s about getting people to demonstrate they can get up, get dressed, go to work, come back and be reliable and trusted,” she said.

Laura and I were taken around the living quarters (at least one bed to a room with small table and cupboard – not very roomy), the games room, farm, workshops and greenhouses, chapel, dining hall, visitors’ room and the farm shop.

The corridors of the living quarters and walls in many of the areas aren’t grey and lifeless either, more often than not they’re painted by the inmates (with permission, of course).

Alison said many prisoners develop a creative flair and it shows in the artwork, one prisoner we met even showed us his ability on the piano.

We were told 254 prisoners work across the site and around 100 work outside the prison on community projects or paid employment.

One-hundred-and-seven prisoners engage in vocational training and education run by the site and its partners

What about those who abscond?

Alison believes some of the prisoners cannot handle the responsibility and prefer to go back to closed prisons. However, she was keen to point out that absconding figures have gone down in recent years.

I found the prison a surprising place to visit...because as I wandered around I began to feel almost as if I was visiting a college An almost self-sufficient community college where the students attend, but not because they want to but because they have to.