By Ursula Smartt.
ISBN 1 872 870 96 1
Grendon Prison opened in 1962 as an experiment in the
psychological treatment of offenders. It uses multi-disciplinary
groups of staff working with prisoners, using group work as the
basic therapeutic tool.
The prison holds about 220 men, mostly in their late 20s or 30s,
serving four to 10 years. There is a surprisingly low number of men
from ethnic minorities, with over 80 per cent of the inmates being
Most have committed serious and violent offences; half of them
murder or robbery and about 15 per cent sex offences. These are
difficult men, facing custody for a significant proportion of their
lives, and unless they can break the pattern of offending, they may
spend most of their lives behind bars.
The good news is that Grendon appears to work. Home Office
research shows reconviction rates are lower than other prisons, and
the men have more favourable attitudes to authority figures and
lower levels of hostility. But Grendon is an experiment standing
alone and has had little political support. Into its tense and
challenging portals walks the dynamic and feisty academic
researcher Ursula Smartt. Her book describes the travails she had
in getting access to prisoners and the tough conversations she had;
an interview with a murderer who admits, finally, there was a
sexual motive behind his murder of a young woman, a stranger who
happened along at the wrong time, is powerful testimony.
Ursula Smartt’s Grendon Tales is not a dry academic
text but a breathless personal slide through her year talking to
some of the UK’s most difficult prisoners.
Frances Crook is director, Howard
League for Penal Reform.