Epic jail: inside the UK’s optimised ‘super-prison’ warehouses

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Inmate deaths are up by 20% in the UK, the most incarcerated nation in western Europe. Can prisons designed using virtual reality modelling undo the harm?

A huge image of a snowcapped mountain covers the wall at the end of a long corridor of cells in Her Majesty’s Prison Berwyn, providing a glimmer of relief from the sterile landscape of indestructible concrete walls and wipe-clean floors, flooded with harsh white light.

What the polished PR images of the model £220m “super-prison” in Wrexham, north Wales, don’t convey is the constant echo of banging doors and shouting; the lack of ventilation, or the fact that the cell ceilings are so low you can press your hand flat against them. Nor do they show that Berwyn has some of the country’s highest rates of violence, weapon finds and “use of force” incidents by staff. Nor that the workshops still remain unfinished two years after the prison opened.

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