Nine ways that prison reform improved life in Inveraray Jail
Life in Inveraray Jail’s Old Prison was full of hardship. Men, women, children and the insane all had to share filthy, overcrowded cells. It was cold, damp and dark, with disease, violence and hunger rife. How time must have dragged! There was no place to exercise and no work or education was provided. This all changed with the Prison Reform Act of 1839, which stipulated that all prisoners had to be properly looked after and that cells had to meet certain conditions. Here are nine ways that the Act made a difference to life in Inveraray Jail.
- Living conditions improved. The Old Prison was fully upgraded, with the addition of facilities such as a water closet and a heating system. The New Prison was built with twelve individual cells, a water closet on every floor and a washroom. The building was heated and ventilated and was lit by gas.
- Women got their own space. For the first time female prisoners at Inveraray Jail were given their own cells, away from men. Finally, they had some security and privacy! In the Old Prison, men and women had lived cheek by jowl in the cells with no water closet or washroom.
- The role of Matron was created. The new role of Matron ensured that a female was solely responsible for the welfare of women in prison. Before this, all prison staff had been men. Matron would carry out daily checks to ensure the women were in good health, taking exercise and washing themselves. She also educated them, teaching them how to read and write and giving them practical skills such as cooking, knitting and sewing.
- A Prison Surgeon became mandatory. The Prison Surgeon was responsible for prisoners’ wellbeing and for making sure they were well fed. He had to approve certain punishments, such as a bread-and-water diet or placing prisoners in handcuffs.
- Hygiene was made a higher priority. Each new inmate was given a bath and issued with two sets of prison clothing. From then on they were expected to wash every morning and evening and take a bath once a fortnight. Underwear had to be washed once a week and outerwear once a month. Matron would supervise the women’s baths to make sure they gave themselves a good scrub.
- Prisoners were provided with clothing. On arrival at Inveraray Jail, male prisoners were given a moleskin jacket and trousers and women were given a blouse, skirt, apron and cap. These warm clothes would have been quite a luxury! Inmates had to personally wash and look after their uniform. Outer garments were washed once a month and under garments once a week.
- There was time for exercise. Airing were built in 1843 to provide a secure place where prisoners could walk in the fresh air. Each prisoner was exercised for an hour a day.
- Food was provided for free. Prior to the Act, prisoners had to rely on family to bring them food. Now they were given three meals a day. It was plain – porridge, soup, bread and milk – but more plentiful and nutritious than many of the prisoners would have been used to.
- Prisoners get to work! All physically fit prisoners had to work in their cells for up to ten hours a day. In Inveraray most male prisoners made herring nets or picked oakum. Some with special skills were employed at shoemaking, tailoring or joinery work. Female prisoners picked oakum, knitted stockings or sewed. This not only kept prisoners busy, it also gave them useful skills for when they were released.
This all added up to a much more wholesome and comfortable existence for prisoners in Inveraray Jail. In fact, prisoners often put on weight during their stay! Some people began to question whether prison life had got a bit too comfortable. When you visit Inveraray Jail, sit in the cells, talk to Matron and the prisoners and make up your own mind!