Friday, 13 February 2015

Sex in Prison: an Inside Story

No sex please, I'm Grayling
In previous blog posts about sex in our prisons I’ve focused mainly on the issues of sexual assaults and rape, but I haven’t so far really explored the wider questions of sexual activities. These include consensual sexual acts, as well as the often unequal relationships between prisoners that occur inside. 

The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) – which is paranoid about anything to do with sex and prisoners – clearly doesn’t want the issue discussed at all which is no doubt just one of the reasons that Chris Grayling is currently blocking researchers and journalists from visiting prisons to find out what really is going on behind the high walls. Trying to break the silence is why this blog exists.

Ahead of the forthcoming Howard League on Penal Reform’s conference Behind Closed Bars: Sex in Prison which is due to take place in London on 17 March (see here for more details), I thought I’d share my own thoughts on this highly contentious subject, especially since MOJ policy blocked my attempts to participate in the Howard League Commission on Sex’s face-to-face interviews. My observations here relate only to prisons for adult males, since I have no first-hand experience of the female jails.

My first observation is that there is probably much less sexual activity between adult males in prison than would be imagined by members of the general public who have no direct experience of prison life beyond films – such as the Shawshank Redemption – that often focus on scenes of brutal gang rape in jail laundries or showers. These sensationalised fictional accounts continue to influence popular misconceptions about UK prisons, as well as fuelling male fears of rape.

Shawshank: plays on male fears of rape
Having helped support victims of rape and other sexual assaults while I was working as an Insider (peer mentor) I can state that rape certainly does take place in our prisons even if the MOJ would like to pretend otherwise. However, gang attacks of the kind often portrayed in the movies are incredibly rare. I am only personally aware of a single case where more than one attacker was involved directly.

Much sexual activity that does take place in prison is, by and large, consensual. However, a significant number of these relationships and encounters also involve some aspect of inequality (such as the offering and/or acceptance of sexual acts in return for material items such as tobacco, other canteen goods or drugs) or else the granting of other favours, for example protection from bullying or help to get desirable work assignments.

Most blatant sexual exploitation takes the form of older, adult males who mostly identify as being heterosexual targeting younger or more vulnerable prisoners, particularly in those B-cat local prisons which hold Young Prisoners (YPs) aged 18-21 on remand or newly sentenced. The current practice of integrating YPs on wings with much older adult prisoners has undoubtedly created opportunities for sexual exploitation. 

Young Prisoners: especially vulnerable
I’ve written previously about one particular Cat-B where every single one of these young men – mostly still in their teens – disclosed that they had been victims of various types of sexual abuse and exploitation, either at that establishment or elsewhere while they were in custody, including at Young Offender Institutions (YOIs), within the youth justice system. Their descriptions of what they’d experienced ranged from unwanted sexual approaches from fellow inmates or sexualised bullying and inappropriate touching, right through to being forced against their will to perform sexual acts on other inmates.

Those male prisoners who identify as homosexual or bisexual, and who have stable relationships with partners outside prison, appear much less likely to engage in same-sex activity while in custody, even if serving long sentences, including life or Indeterminate Sentences for Public Protection (IPP). I’m aware of exceptions, but in general most openly gay or bisexual men in prison aren’t notably promiscuous even when opportunities do present themselves. 

A minority of gay or bisexual men do develop sexually active relationships while in prison and, by and large, these are either ignored or tacitly tolerated by prisoners and staff alike. On specific occasions, two men known or perceived to be gay have been put by staff in the same two-man cell in order to reduce the risk of conflict or bullying by other prisoners. In the cases known to me, these men were not in relationships with each other, nor – as far as I’m aware – did they subsequently engage in sexual activity with each other while sharing cells. 

Behind closed cell doors
A relatively small number of self-identified heterosexual males do ‘experiment’ with same-sex activity in prison or take advantage of opportunities for sexual acts when offered by other inmates. This type of sexual behaviour seems to be almost entirely opportunistic in character. It also tends to be very covert. 

In terms of men who would normally consider themselves to be entirely heterosexual when not in custody, yet are willing to have some form of sex while they are in prison, the recurrent pattern seems to be that if an otherwise heterosexual prisoner (particularly, although not exclusively, serving a substantial sentence) finds himself sharing a cell with another male who he knows to be, or perceives to be, gay or bisexual he then might take advantage of this situation. It’s what is sometimes known inside as being ‘prison gay’.

In my experience such prisoners self-identify very strongly as ‘straight’ and can be prone to react very violently if anyone dares to suggest otherwise. The common view seems to be that what goes on in prison stays in prison and such activities are rarely discussed among prisoners themselves, although there is always a fair amount of wing gossip going round.

For this reason, sexual activity in these situations also tends to be very secretive in nature, with activities taking place at night after the final evening head count has been done by wing staff. Moreover, it is necessary for prisoners who are engaging in sexual acts with each other to conceal this from officers or they risk being ‘nicked’ (put on a charge) or receiving a negative entry in their prison records.

Ideas of masculinity
Some self-identified heterosexual males will attempt to justify their behaviour, particularly when it has an exploitative element, to themselves and to the subject of their attentions as “doing the gay boy a favour”. These attitudes are often rooted in distorted beliefs about the assumed passivity, sexual promiscuity and low self-esteem of male homosexuals. Prisoners who are ‘out’ about their homosexuality on the wings can soon discover that they risk being the focus of unwanted attention from other inmates seeking sex, often based on the widespread misconception that being gay automatically means that the prisoner in question is sexually available to anyone.

Sexual activity is very rarely reciprocated in these cases. Sexually active prisoners who identify as heterosexual can often have a sense of entitlement and expect to receive oral sex or, much less commonly, give anal sex as the active partner, but would never consider reversing roles as this would be seen as an unacceptable challenge to their own notions and conceptions of ‘masculinity’. These observations are mirrored both in academic research and a range of other, anecdotal, evidence from various countries, including the USA and Russia.

There are rarer cases where sexual activity is initiated by a gay or bisexual prisoner after a period of tentative questioning or ‘testing’ of attitudes. I know several gay prisoners who reported that they set out to ‘seduce’ their apparently straight cell-mates over a period of time. Common ice-breaking activities have included offering to provide massage for gym or sports injuries, hair-cutting, assistance with body-shaving (surprisingly prevalent in prisons owing to the widespread cult of body-building) or other physical contact activities. 

Body-shaving: very popular in jail
One openly gay man confided that he had succeeded in “seducing” – his own words – every cell-mate he had found attractive by initially offering massage services in the cell after the nightly roll-check. In almost every case he reported that these approaches were accepted and then led on to various forms of sexual acts.

However, it seems that these sexual approaches were not without a degree of risk. The same prisoner observed that most of his ‘conquests’ had subsequently experienced some kind of sexual identity crisis following their participation in such activities. On occasion, their reaction had been very aggressive or even violent. In one incident a regretful cell-mate actually physically assaulted this gay prisoner the morning after they had had consensual sex overnight. The aggressor was then moved by staff to another cell, although the actual reason for the altercation was given as an argument about what to watch on TV.

At one inner city Cat-B local any gay or bisexual men who had declared their sexuality to staff (in the induction interview or subsequently) were almost always put into cell shares with other known gay or bisexual inmates. Although this appears to have been a local practice (almost certainly unofficial), members of the wing staff clearly held the opinion that accommodating gay men together was a means of reducing potential conflicts between prisoners or homophobic bullying. 

I know of one specific case where two men who were civil partners prior to coming into custody were deliberately separated and not permitted to associate together on the wings while they were in a Cat-B. However, this appears to have had more to do with the fact that they were co-defendants in the same armed robbery than their sexual orientation. 

As soon as they were both transferred to the same Cat-D (open prison) staff willingly placed them in the same shared room where they lived as a couple, although reasonably discreetly. Both were very nice guys and popular with other prisoners, so as far as I was aware they didn’t experience any homophobic bullying even though the entire prison seemed aware of that they were in a civil partnership. 

MOJ: no sex on our watch!
It is interesting to note that these local practices – which would no doubt raise concerns in the current climate within the MOJ and the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) – do appear to have minimised the risk of homophobic bullying. In contrast, at an inner city Cat-B prison where openly gay men were either accommodated in single cells or with heterosexual cell-mates, there was a much higher level of sexually-motivated bullying and insults, despite the visible presence of two openly gay wing officers.

At one Cat-C establishment the management attempted to steer a middle course by trying to accommodate men known to be gay together in shared cells following an appropriate risk assessment to reduce the likelihood of sexual exploitation or ‘grooming’, particularly if one of the men was considered to be vulnerable. At that time this prison did have a very active Equality and Diversity Officer who was a very open and proud lesbian and the prison’s officially supported monthly support group for gay men and bisexuals was reportedly very well attended. 

I personally only came across one openly transgender prisoner during my own time in custody. It was in a Cat-B nick and she was pre-op but was accommodated in a single cell on the basis of ‘psychological vulnerability’. In the privacy of her cell she was also permitted to have female nightclothes in possession, although she wasn’t allowed to wear female clothing around the prison.

No two prisons are ever the same, but it does seem that there is a more relaxed atmosphere towards sexual diversity at open prisons. Some establishments run dedicated support groups for gay and bisexual men. There are also health awareness campaigns on sexual health – applicable to men of all sexual orientations, with condoms easily available from Healthcare or via clinics in the local town during temporary release (ROTL). Owing to the nature of these establishments, which have rooms to which the occupants have their own keys rather than cells, sexual activity is easier to arrange, even when the participants are not sharing accommodation.

Men do get sexually assaulted inside
However, at one open prison there was also a significant number of sexual assaults of varying severity (ranging from inappropriate touching to aggressive rape) during the period 2013-2014. In the most serious cases local police were involved and statements taken, although at times the prison authorities seemed reluctant to involve outside agencies, preferring to rely on internal disciplinary procedures. In most cases, the alleged perpetrator in a sexual assault was quickly transferred back to closed conditions.

Without doubt, a wide range of sexual activity does take place in prison. While most of this is – broadly speaking – consensual there is a real concern over unequal and exploitative relationships. Recent changes to the Incentives and Earned Privileges (IEP) system have left many prisoners very vulnerable as a result of the prohibition on families and friends sending in clothing and other items. Since 1 November 2013, all items must now be purchased from prison-approved catalogues or the canteen (other than books as of 1 February 2015). This, in turn, has increased the risk of ‘grooming’ and sexual exploitation, as all many younger prisoners have to offer is their own bodies in exchange for canteen goods, particularly tobacco.

Debt: tobacco and drugs
In addition, the problems of debt arising from borrowing or else maintaining a drug habit can also make some prisoners vulnerable. In some cases these debts can be paid off by providing sexual services, although the extent to which this happens is very difficult to assess without further research.

When dealing with the issue of sexual activity in prison, the authorities also face serious inconsistencies in terms of official policy. For example, the PSI that deals with Prison Disciplinary Procedures (PSI 47/2011) makes it clear that consensual sex between prisoners is not a specific offence: “there is no Rule specifically prohibiting sexual acts between prisoners” (1.76). A potential disciplinary charge only arises if sexual acts are observed by a third party, usually a member of staff. 

Moreover, the PSI also allows discretion on charging even in such cases: “But if two prisoners sharing a cell are in a relationship and engage in sexual activity during the night when they have a reasonable expectation of privacy, a disciplinary charge may not be appropriate” (1.76). 

In contrast, however, the latest PSI dealing with Incentives and Earned Privileges (PSI 30/2013), makes it clear that prisoners will be required to [act] “with decency at all times remembering prisons/cells are not private dwellings (this includes not engaging in sexual activity)” (Annex B). However, what actually constitutes sexual activity is nowhere spelt out in detail, so could in theory include any act of masturbation, even if conducted in private and on one’s own. These apparent inconsistencies within NOMS’ published Instructions and policies serve to create confusion among both prisoners and prison staff.

Although some prisons provide internal support groups for gay and bisexual men under the banner of equality and diversity, the impact of these can be mixed. Such groups raise awareness of sexual health issues and can help to promote positive identity and feelings of self-worth. However, there is also sometimes a tension between these activities and wider prison policies that appear to take a negative stance towards same-sex sexual activity.

The vital issue of consent
As I have flagged up in previous blog posts, there still exists a culture of official denial when it comes to sexual assaults and rape inside some of our prisons. In my view, sexual offences committed in prison should be considered as purely criminal matters with complaints always being referred to the police.

However, there is evidence that in some prisons the management prefers to avoid reporting such allegations to the local police and instead makes use of internal disciplinary processes. This can make prisoners reluctant to report incidents of sexual assaults.

Although recent official statistics reveal that reported incidents of sexual assault in prison have risen significantly – to 170 cases in 2013, up from 113 during 2012 – this is likely to only be the tip of a much larger iceberg of sexual abuse inside our prisons owing to chronic under-reporting by men. Research by the Commission on Sex in Prison suggests that around one percent of prisoners have been raped, while 5.3 percent had been coerced into sexual activity. These findings may mean that anything between 850 and 1,650 inmates could have been victimised sexually whilst in custody. As I have written in a previous blog post, I was one of that number, even though the actual assault was at the less serious end of the scale.

I’m hoping that the Howard League’s conference will draw public attention to many of the issues I’ve raised above. However, achieving positive change inside our prison system is likely to take much longer, especially while the MOJ remains in a state of denial and our jails are in lockdown. 

A good start would be by clarifying and harmonising prison rules and policies so that good practices are made clear and applied rather than relying on the current contradictory approaches between the Prison Rules and various PSIs. Let’s see whether whoever gets Chris Grayling’s job after the next general election will be brave enough to face up to this particular challenge – or will the whole issue just be kicked into the long grass again?


  1. Fascinating as always Alex. On a related topic, do you have views about conjugal visits (if that is still the right term)? I understand prisoners have lost many of their freedoms, but I am not sure depriving partners is or should be part of the sentence. Perhaps such visits would have benefits in many ways including prisoners' well-being, keeping families together, rehabilitation, and so forth. I wonder what your views are about this?

    1. Thanks for your question, Nigel. It's a good issue to raise. I do think that permitting conjugal visits - which are permitted in countries from the USA to Russia - would be an excellent idea. In my view these would offer a very significant behavioural reward, particularly if the visits were linked to the Incentives and Earned Privileges (IEP) scheme. They would also help to keep relationships going, especially for those prisoners who are serving long sentences. Having a stable family relationship to go to at the end of a jail sentence is widely recognised as improving the chances of successful resettlement and reducing reoffending.

      In reality, Cat-D (open) prisons do offer something akin to conjugal visits for those prisoners who are granted Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL). Prisoners on day release at my Cat-D used to get their wives or partners to book a cheap room at a local bed and breakfast and then spent the afternoon enjoying some 'personal time'. It became a legendary institution and every member of the prison staff knew exactly what was going on.

      Those D-cat prisoners who qualify for home leave can also 'strengthen their family ties' - as the Prison Service euphemistically tends to call it - when they can go home for four nights in the final phase of their sentences. Again, this type of leave is a major privilege and only available to those on the Enhanced level on the IEP scheme so it can have a significant impact on prisoners' behaviour.

      When it comes to the idea of organising conjugal visits for prisoners in closed prisons, sadly, the reality is that the UK penal system is so out-dated and stuck in its Victorian past that any serious discussion of imprisonment and sex isn't likely anytime soon. The British attitude seems to be that if best custodial practices work in other countries then they must be rejected here. We only seem to import the worst, most regressive ideas, usually from the USA where the prison system has become one enormous money-making industry for the private sector, regardless of outcomes.

    2. Thanks Alex. I agree, and incorporating it into the IEP would surely make prisons calmer and safer for all concerned. Surely we want people who have served their time to be reintegrated into society, get work and live a good and fulfilling family life. But as you say, Victoria rules!

  2. I always find the MoJ's head in sand attitude towards sex in prison to be ridiculous. Human beings are generally sexual beings and few people are used to long periods of enforced celibacy. to pretend that people somehow lose their sexuality the moment they hit the prisons gates and won't engage in any form of sexual practice until they are released is naive at best and downright idiotic at worst.

    In the female estate I saw very little sexual exploitation of inmates by other inmates although there was the odd incident though from what I'm aware that seemed to occur between people in "relationships" where the power imbalance was marked. People generally engaged in consensual liaisons either because they were gay or prison gay. Those heterosexuals not interested in being prison gay were generally celibate except on ROTLs due to lack of choice in the matter. The staff generally turned a blind eye unless things got out of hand as they occasionally did. I know one gay couple on the outside were put in the same double cell at Bronzefield until one of the couple had a bit of a breakdown and tried to attack another prisoner whereupon she ended up down in seg and the partner in a single cell ironically next door to the person who'd been attacked.

    The main problems with sex in female jails come from staff abusing their poisition and engaging in sexual activity with inmates. This is fairly widespread and was prevalent at 3 of the 4 prisons I was in: At Downview 14 staff and one assistant governor ended up in the shit for abusive relationships with inmates (both male and female officers) and one governor went to jail for amongst other things out of hours sex parties in the library and buying "presents" for inmates from the Argos catalogue At Bronzefield it was well known that several seg officers could supply you with anything you wanted in return for sexual favours of various kinds (apparently there was a list of what such and such a sex act would buy you) and at ESP a number of the female officers engaged in sex with inmates in return for favourable parole reports. Holloway was the only prison I didn't see much of this going on simply because with everyone with at least one roomate if not several (in a dorm) it was far more difficult for staff to do things on the QT because there would always have been a witness.

    Unfortunately prison is an environment where more vulnerable people are going to get taken advantage of and that includes sexually whether that be by inmates or staff simply because of the very nature of the power imbalance between inmates and staff or inmates who have what others need/want - ironically usually facilitated by staff as they are the usual conduit of contraband getting in to prisons.

    Conjugal visits as Alex notes above would be a good idea. If other countries are able to do this successfully there is not real reason why it can't be done in UK prisons. Though any facilities provided by this are likely to be extremely unromantic/pleasant etc. Somehow, though I can't see Grayling even considering this.

    1. Thanks for contributing a 'companion piece' of writing about the female prison experience. There does seem to be many differences between men's and women's prisons. Within the male prisons I was only really aware of one prison officer - a woman - who was sacked or transferred elsewhere due to sexual activity with young male prisoners while she was on duty.

      Your accounts of what went on at Downview and Bronzefield sound chilling, particularly the list of tariffs for specific sexual acts. It all sounds like organised sexual slavery with 'benefits'. I wonder why the media seems much more obsessed with sexual activity among male prisoners than investigating serious abuses like the ones you describe in women's prisons.

      I agree that the very mention of sex in the same sentence as prisoners seems calculated to set 'Calamity Chris' off. Any reform or even progress in addressing rape and sexual assaults inside prisons will have to wait until he has been evicted by the electorate from his fortress down in Petty France!

    2. The stuff at Downview had been going on for years before it was exposed and the only reason it was exposed is because an officer blew the whistle on everyone she knew of who had been doing this sort of stuff ironically she blew the whistle to cover up her own liaison with a prisoner because she thought she was going to get exposed and so decided to get in first.

      I am aware that since I left Bronzefield they have been a lot more proactive about weeding out abusive officers and a lot have been sacked.

      Unfortunately all those at ESP who engage in this sort of abuse are still there and still plying their trade, so to speak because management there have no interest in dealing with the situation. They tolerate no complaints at all - file a complaint there and you get immediately shipped out as Nick Hardwicke noted in the most recent report on the place so the abuse is allowed to carry on unchecked.

      The media is simply not interested, apart from a few journalists, in actually exposing what goes on inside any prison. They would rather trot out the tired old cliches because that apparently is better jorunalism than the truth. I would be interested for example to know if Andy Coulson's attitude towards prisons and prisoners has changed since his days as editor of the Sun as he would be well placed to actually do some turthful reporting. Even Vicky Pryce's pieces really don't expose the actual truth of what happens in prisons. But that's probably because she did one of those blink and you miss it sentences although she did apparently manage to spend £400 on phone calls in the nine weeks she was incarcerated according to today's Telegraph.

  3. On a related topic about women giving birth and how they are treated in US jails, see: The same thing happens to women in the UK and prisoners are routinely shackled when going to hospital even when dying or in a coma. Apparently cons are clever enough to fake being in a coma so if we aren't shackled we will simply do a runner. Doesn't say much about HMPS's view of medical opinion. It would have to be someone very clever to be able to fool a bunch of doctors into believing you're in a coma when you aren't!

    1. Thanks for sharing that link with us. I'd read that morning, but it just goes to show how risk-adverse the custodial systems can be. I've known prisoners who are so elderly or infirm that they can't walk unaided being shackled to wheelchairs and hospital bed, even thought they are close to death.

      Numerous prisoners have also reported how humiliating it is to be seen paraded in front of others while wearing prison clothes and handcuffs or on a long chain while in hospitals. I often think that this discourages some prisoners from seeking proper medical diagnosis or treatment if it is likely to involve the 'walk of shame' through the hospital waiting areas.

  4. Some interesting stats on community sentences at

    1. Thanks for sharing the link. Those stats are particularly interesting. Sadly, evidence-based thinking isn't in favour down in the MOJ at present!

  5. Hi Alex,

    Another very interesting post. I have 2 questions:

    1) Would you say part of the problem of resolving issues of sexual violence within prison could be that "grassing" to the authorities is seen as a cardinal sin and could end up making the person who is assaulted experiencing worse "punishment" by being segregated for his own protection. Thereby losing privileges and association etc. So therefore they keep quiet.

    2) I seem to recall you said you have experienced one incident along these lines. I believe you said it was in the showers. Would you be willing to expand on what happened afterwards? Did you report to the authorities and what if anything, happened to the perpetrator(s) ?

    1. I'm glad you found the post of interest, Tommy. Thanks for your questions.

      You are right that the fear of 'grassing' might reduce prisoners' willingness to report sexual assault. However, I think the issue is much more complex.

      In some cases reporting a sexual assault by another prisoner might not be seen as 'grassing' because there is such a widespread loathing of sex offenders in prisons. Any con regarded as being a 'wrong 'un' is likely to be at risk of physical assault, so the 'code' against grassing is a bit blurred on this.

      The wider issue is that it isn't easy for most adult men (or boys for that matter) to report sexual assault. While I acknowledge that ANY sexual attack can be very traumatic for anyone, male or female, there is also a very strong cultural taboo that makes disclosure of male-on-male sexual violence particularly difficult.

      A common misconception or cultural assumption is that only 'weak', 'gay-looking' or 'effeminate' men get sexually assaulted; 'real men' would never let that happen. Rape in particular is seen as 'emasculating' so few men in prison would ever admit that they had been raped. Of course, the reality is completely different and men and boys from any background, age or sexual orientation can be attacked or assaulted.

      In my experience, many men find it incredibly difficult to discuss sexual matters openly in any case. Some may have experienced sexual abuse in childhood, so are even more reluctant to make disclosures of this nature, particularly when they have been re-traumatised. In my experience this is one of the main reasons that adult men remain silent about sexual assaults, including rape.

      On your second question, yes I was subjected to what was a fairly mild sexual assault by one of my cell-mates. It was physical, but more of an unwanted 'encouragement' to participate in sexual activity. I was shocked at the time and having slept on it I did report it to a member of staff as I wanted to move cells - which I did the day after the assault. However, absolutely no action was taken against him and I was never interviewed or asked to make a statement of any kind. The local police were not involved. In fact, when I eventually saw my own prison records, there was no mention of the incident at all.

      In respect of what had happened to me, there were absolutely no consequences for the perpetrator. However, shortly afterwards he attacked and beat another prisoner after he (my assailant) had been caught stealing tobacco and medication from the other lad's cell. Security was informed and the prisoner concerned was quickly returned to a closed prison.

  6. is an interesting article about fraud and security issues at Broadmoor which in a lot of ways mirrors what goes on within HMPS

    1. Thanks for your comment and the link. Very interesting... and disturbing. You are quite right about the similar parallels with prisons.

  7. On a completely unrelated topic but given the recent significant changes to probation the following story is interesting as it details the crazy way HMPS and probation deal with the whole notion of protecting the public and let people out who clearly shouldn't have been whilst denying release to others way beyond tariff. It transpired from talking to staff at Holloway that she didn't even serve the entire 5 year minimum tariff before being released on parole but managed to get out early

    1. Thanks for your comments and the link. I did read this particular news story today and I also wondered about the timescale here. Something didn't seem right in terms of the type of sentence, but I had assumed it was perhaps because remand time had been credited. Apparently not!

  8. I found these comments on facebook, they are sex related but funny!

    "I was walking with an attractive prison governor when one of the prisoners shouted "Hey miss, come up here and sit on my face". The female governor answered quick as a flash, "Why, is your nose bigger than your dick?". Love the banter.

    " Convict flashed a female officer and asked her opinion, quick as a flash she said 'It's like a willy, just a lot smaller'"


    "The Guardian spoke to one man who was recently released after serving a long sentence at a high security jail." ... was that you (it doesn't sound lke you)

    either way i thought it was relating to the topic.

    1. Thanks for the link. No, not me this time! I have been interviewed by The Guardian about prison issues but that was last year.

  10. Sorry to bring this archived article up but it came up in some research I was doing via google today. Masturbation. I've been writing to a guy, only because we were connected via a penfriend charity and he phones me up occasionally. Today he mentioned in passing comment that he'd been advised that if he was caught masturbating he could be placed on the Sex Offenders Register. I told him that someone was clearly pulling his. . . .leg, certainly with the latter half of the comment but decided to investigate further this evening and have come to the same conclusion as yourself that the whole amendment of PSI 30/2013 is extremely ambiguous. He'd previously mentioned his confusion at condoms being available and I suggested that they were probably for the prevention of STD's. We all know that goes on. They can't possibly expect hundred of men inside for a longer period of time to abstain from at least relieving themselves, even single-handedly? Sorry, I know that I've put a couple of stupid puns here but ultimately I seriously need to ask if whether there has been any further clarification since you wrote this article? If not, is there someone/anywhere that I can write to. It doesn't feel appropriate for me to write to the governor about this matter, particularly as she's a woman. Additionally, I sent him a book, this was prior to the amendment which came in about a week ago and I used an authorised retailer (Foyles Bookshop). It was only a Bible Dictionary, so it was nothing remotely sinister and he hasn't received it. That, - I did enquire about and was told that he needed to apply to reception to see if they were holding it for him. They said that they weren't so I guess that I've had to learn something there.

    1. Thanks for your comments and question. No need to apologise... it is an important issue.

      There is - understandably - a great deal of sexual tension in prisons, particularly closed ones. At least at open prisons some of the prisoners do get a chance to meet family and friends in local towns on day release or even go home for a few days in the months before release. These period of temporary release (ROTL) serve as the nearest thing the British prison system offers to conjugal visits.

      You are right about PSI 30/2013 being ambiguous. However, the Incentives and Earned Privileges (IEP) 'compacts' that prisoners are expected to sign up to and observe are often much more explicit. Effectively, there is an IEP system ban on all sexual activity, which presumably includes masturbation.

      Ironically, consensual sexual activity between prisoners is not explicitly prohibited in the Prison Rules. Indeed, there is a specific clause in the Prison Disciplinary PSI that mentions situations where there is "an expectation of privacy" when two prisoners opt to have sexual activity as a reason not to bring charges if caught.

      However, it is using the IEP system that individuals unlikely enough to get caught can be punished. Some prison officers do seem to enjoy sneaking around (even when cons are locked up in their cells) in a bid to catch people out, but it's not that common. There have been some recent reports of staff members in Young Offenders Institutions (YOIs) punishing lads caught in the act of masturbating, but little or no documentary evidence of this - it's anecdotal.

      The wider problem is that with the current overcrowding situation the vast majority of prisoners now have to share cells that were often designed for one inmate, so personal privacy is rare. I do know that some men will have an arrangement with their cellmate that they will take it in turns to sign up for some out of cell activity (library, chapel, exercise, gym etc) so the other lad can have some 'personal time' alone, but this gets almost impossible when banged up for 22 or 23 hours per day.

      Re: the missing book. It is worth checking with Foyles to see it if has been returned to them and to report it missing. They may be able to chase it up with the prison.

      Of course, deliberate indecent exposure (whether to a member of staff or a fellow inmate) is likely to result in consequences

  11. hey alex, i've been reading through this blog and just wanted to say thanks for writing it all - i couldn't seem to find such a wealth of info on uk prisons anywhere else. this might be a stupid question, but i'm a biologically female individual considering going on testosterone; should i transition, do you think i would go to male or female prison, if i were unlucky enough to be in that situation?

  12. Hi Alex,

    This is quite an interesting and highly informative article. I am a student filmmaker and I'm making a short documentary about sexuality in prison. I was wondering if you have an email that I can reach you at to ask more questions? Thank you!

  13. Hi Alex,

    This is quite an interesting and highly informative article. I am a student filmmaker and I'm making a short documentary about sexuality in prison. I was wondering if you have an email that I can reach you at to ask more questions? Thank you!