Review: Channel Five’s Banged Up series about life in jails


Channel Five, 9pm, 21 July


David Blunkett starring in a Channel Five reality series has a degree of painful inevitability about it. As it is – and even allowing for low expectations – the programme and the former cabinet minister actually aren’t that bad.

The premise of Banged Up is to show boys in trouble with the police what life in prison is really like by pairing them up in cells with former prisoners acting as mentors.

In this episode, the third of four, the boys were halfway through their 10-day sentence and so eligible for parole.

Anyone tuning in for a criminal justice version of X-Factor – with David Blunkett as Simon Cowell, chairing the parole board – is going to feel short-changed. The parole board was encouraging rather than caustic, and the hearings were pretty much devoid of any dramatic tension as all the boys were refused parole, with the exception of Justin, who we knew had a place in the army waiting for him.

In resisting the temptations of the reality genre, Banged Up was actually rather dull. Being locked up in the cell for 15 hours a day, as the boys were, was authentic if not edge-of-the-seat television.

The main insight it gave into what would work to keep the boys out of jail in real life was showing them in contact with their families.

As one of the former prisoners put it: “Prison’s the easiest thing in the world until you ring home, and someone says your mum’s not too well, your dad’s not too well, and then the whole weight of the problems you’ve just picked up on the phone are in that cell with you.”

On the show and in his publicity interviews the David Blunkett we see is much more thoughtful than the one you may recall as home secretary. As more than one reviewer has remarked, you can’t avoid asking yourself why he feels he can do more for penal reform on a Channel Five reality show than as home secretary.

Imran Hussain is head of policy and communications, Prison Reform Trust

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