Leeds

HM Prison Leeds is a Category B men's prison, in the Armley area of Leeds in West Yorkshire, England, which opened in 1847. Leeds Prison is operated by Her Majesty's Prison Service, and is still known locally as Armley Gaol (or Armley Jail), the historical name for the prison.

History

Construction of Leeds Prison (originally named Armley Gaol) was completed in 1847. Built from locally quarried stone, the prison originally had four wings radiating from a central point in a Victorian architectural style (known as 'radial') typical of the time. Each of these four wings had three landings of cells. Eventually Armley Gaol was renamed along with other prisons to make their locations more obvious to people unfamiliar with these areas.

The prison was a site of execution (by hanging) from 1847 until 1961. The final execution was that of Zsiga Pankotia, by Harry Allen for the murder of Eli Myers in a house burglary in the city's affluent Roundhay district. The final execution in A block was that of 19 year old Walter Sharpe in 1950.

In 1990, the Howard League for Penal Reform announced that it would conduct its own independent inquiry into the deaths of five teenage prisoners at HMP Leeds. This followed a refusal by the Home Office to hold a public inquiry.

A further two wings were added in 1994, and a new gate complex was opened in September 2002, providing much needed staff facilities and an improvement to the entry point for all visitors and staff. Most of the older parts of the prison have been extensively refurbished since 2003.

In August 2003 a study by the Prison Reform Trust revealed that Leeds prison had the highest level of recorded drug use among prisoners in England and Wales. 28.3% of inmates held at Leeds Prison tested positive for controlled substances.

In April 2004, Shahid Aziz was murdered by his racist cellmate at HMP Leeds, sparking controversy over the similarities of the case with that of Zahid Mubarek.

In July 2005 The Howard League for Penal Reform published statistics showing that Leeds Prison had the second highest suicide rate of all prisons in England and Wales. 25 inmates had committed suicide at the prison between 1995 and 2004.

In June 2008 a report by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons severely criticised conditions for inmates at Leeds Prison, and accused managers of making up figures relating to how long inmates spent in their cells. In reality some prisoners were out of their cells for just two and a half hours a day. The report also highlighted problems with hostile and unhelpful staff at the prison.

In 2008, Times journalist Robert Crampton used his Beta Male column to ask for invitations to give speeches, to improve his public speaking skills. He received 400 invitations, but only accepted a handful, including Leeds Prison. He visited the prison to give the speech in 2009, subsequently reporting on the experience in The Times.

In June 2010 a report by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons on their unanncounced follow-up visit commented that “it is pleasing to report that this unannounced follow-up visit charted further progress in all areas, as a result of close and effective management” and that “there had been a noticeable improvement in staff-prisoner relationships and considerable management attention to aspects of diversity, in particular race”.

In the financial year 2010-11, HMP Leeds met all of the National Offender Management Targets and more recently has driven down, by quite a significant margin, the rate of illicit drug use through its policy of ‘zero tolerance on drugs’. The overall performance of HMP Leeds is at the very top of range for large Victorian inner city prisons.

The prison today

In addition to serving the courts, the key focus of the prison is to ensure prisoners are discharged, having had their housing needs assessed and where possible settled accommodation and employment arranged. The establishment also focuses on support to prisoners with regards to health and lifestyle, including drug detoxification and prescribing programmes as well as the delivery of the Short Duration Drugs Programme.

Currently the prison is working towards 7 outcomes. They are:

• To reduce re-offending by 10% for prisoners serving less than 12 months.

• To be a prison for the local community delivering effective community partnerships

• To be a prison that reduces drug & alcohol dependency.

• To be a prison which improves and maintains family ties.

• Prisoners are meaningfully engaged in custody, achieving 80% employment and 90% attendance at education.

• Prisoners are treated with dignity and respect and take responsibility for their actions.

• To achieve excellence in everything they do.

The prison can house up to 1154 prisoners in six residential units, a segregation unit and in-patients Healthcare Facility.

Notable former inmates
  • Charles Peace
  • John Poulson
  • Lilian Lenton
  • Stefan Ivan Kiszko