The Isle of Man is a picturesque tourist haven famous for its motorcycle races, tax breaks and tail-less Manx cats – but it is also home to one of the most unusual prisons in the world.
In Jurby prison, inmates are serving time for arguing with their wife and throwing a glass of water in her face, shouting in the street after 2am and hitting their mum over the head with a rolled-up copy of Hello! magazine.
“I got nicked for robbing four pork pies and two Rice Krispie bars,” says Carl. “And they’ve sent me here for criminal damage on four cans of Carling before.”
Sentences may seem excessively punitive, with jail terms for drug offences three times longer here than in England and Wales.
And no prisoner is automatically eligible for parole – they must earn it.
But as tonight’s ITV documentary The Best Little Prison In Britain? shows, the regime is far from harsh.
Unlike most UK jails, all inmates have single cells and are allowed out of them for up to seven hours a day.
Staff levels are almost one to one with the 120 prisoners, and they all get on so well they often invite prison staff for drinks and dinner when released.
And there is a personal shopper to buy whatever prisoners can afford with their wages of up to £35 a week. Its reputation for being cushy has earned the prison the unwanted nickname of the Jurby Hilton.
But with reoffending rates the lowest in Europe, at 12.5% compared to 48% in England and Wales, Governor Bob McColm must be doing something very right.
He has spent 39 years working in the prison service and governed six other jails before postponing retirement for the top job at Jurby four years ago.
Bob says: “Jurby is very different from anywhere else I’ve worked, and I love it. But anyone who believes an inmate’s life is cushy hasn’t been inside.
“Some think we should go back to how things were when I started in the prison service. We locked them up for 23 hours a day, had three in a cell and a chamber pot in the corner.
“That’s what started the Strangeways riots, which I was involved in.
“If you treat people that way, you change nothing. Here we have a safe, secure, decent, clean environment.
“We change people by building their trust and confidence, then trying to help them make better choices.
“It’s like parenting – you try to influence people to do the right things.”
Bob also heads the Isle of Man’s probation service and if he believes legislation isn’t working, living on a small island means he can quickly work to change it.
This is because the Isle of Man is a British Crown Dependency with the Queen as sovereign but it is self-governing with independent legal, administrative and fiscal systems, and its own parliament, the Tynwald.
And Bob views his role as dealing with social problems rather than criminal justice, aiming to get inside an inmate’s thoughts to redirect their criminal mind.
“It’s our job to make sure inmates go out of prison different to the way they came in,” he says. “Working out the key to an individual and building that relationship means using education, work and incentives.
“Our officers try to unpick who the offenders are. And they’re brilliant at it because the Isle of Man has a small population of 85,000 so they know inmates because they locked up their grandads, dads or they’ve gone to school with them.
“That gives us the leverage to be able to get them to change their behaviour.
“Offenders know if they misbehave they get bugger all – no TV, minimum amount of visits and out for one hour a day.
“They’d rather behave and be rewarded with more visits, gym time or spending money. Or even parole. In England and Wales, for the vast majority, parole is automatic. Here, we absolutely demand that they earn it.”
Natalie Bayle, 32, had a fiance and twin daughters when she started her six-year sentence for drug importation two years ago. Her relationship fell apart and now she counts the days between her 10-year-old girls’ visits.
Confiding in officers has helped pull her out of despair and given her hope for the future. She says: “It took me a while, but now I am able to talk to some officers as if they’re my mum or sister.
“They taught me that doing things like mindfulness courses would help me think more before I do stupid things, because that’s what got me in here. I started being reintegrated in to the community and working in a cafe, because I’m a trained chef. I’ve helped coach people not to relapse in to drug use.
“The prison staff are giving me all the help I can to rebuild relationships and be the best mum I can be when I get out, so I definitely don’t see them as the enemy. But I’d give anything to be out.”
Ross McWhinnie is 15 months into a four-year and 11-month sentence at Jurby for a Class A drug offence.
In that time, family members and friends have passed away but he was not allowed to attend their funerals.
Much harder was seeing his 18-year-old son Ross Junior enter the gates to serve time for possession of cannabis.
Ross, 37, says: “Seeing my son here was the worst thing I’ve had to deal with. In your cell every night, you have plenty of time to rake over your past.
“But when I saw Ross Junior in here, I flashed forward to the future and couldn’t stand to think of him following my path. I felt 100% responsible, because if I hadn’t led the life I led he wouldn’t have been in. If I could rewind my life, I’d do things differently.
“I used to think I was unlucky in life. Now I see that I’m lucky, because the officers help show me how to make sure I do things differently outside. There’s no way I want to be back again.”
Viewers of the ITV documentary are given a tour of the jail, which is designed to have a less oppressive feel.
It is sparklingly clean because prisoners earn spending money by cleaning it.
Small steps have helped create the respectful atmosphere, such as using inmates’ first names or nicknames – a move fiercely opposed by officers in England and Wales.
One officer who excels at winning prisoners’ trust is Armando Armille. He says: “As soon as I stepped in to the prison it was love at first sight.
“I wanted a job that really made a difference and knew I could do that here, not just with inmates’ everyday life but long afterwards.
“We have a much closer relationship with all the inmates. I take the mick out of them and they do the same to me, saying I should be on Love Island because I go to the gym.
“Once we have that connection, we can really get through to them.
“We’re trying to turn people away from a life of crime by helping them see there’s a choice and they can live a better life – isn’t that what we should all be here for?”
- The Best Little Prison In Britain? starts on ITV at 8pm tonight.