films that make a difference
With the highest prison population in Western Europe, Britain’s prisons are reaching bursting point. Nearly a third of all prisoners are from ethnic minorities, but less than 5% of officers are. The Prison Service is desperate to adjust the balance. Having lowered the entry requirements, now they are taking all comers and getting all sorts.
Prior to joining, new recruits are not even interviewed. The only requirement for a job behind bars is a clean criminal record. Today’s recruits are fast tracked into uniform, and hurled headlong through an intense training regime.
The class of 2004 is meant to represent a new generation of screws. A Moroccan bus driver (Mustapha Bouker), a 47 year old Hindu civil servant (Jaya Karir), a young Jamaican single mother (Sharifa Wade) and a 21 year old bachelor embarking on his first job (Jamie Barker) are among the group of 8 starting out. For most of them, prison is a completely alien territory. They soon learn it’s an intimidating world of menace and discipline, rules and political correctness.
Some are better cut out than others for the harsh realities to come. But one can’t stand swearing, several get hopelessly lost in Belmarsh’s maze of corridors, and all of them are ill prepared for the most testing part of the course, when they have to physically restrain a prisoner – in full riot gear. With prison suicides reaching record levels this year, they have to learn how to cope with a range of mental health issues, not least their own stress levels. The average life expectancy of a prison officer after retirement is just 18 months.
Most see it as a career for life, and a job of routine – locking and unlocking, radios and rubdowns, searches and handcuffs. But when the trainees struggle to learn these basics, their uncompromising and outspoken tutors (Rob Joseph & Gill Lewis) provide the film with some hilarious moments and candid insights. Harsh critics of many Prison Service regulations, they make it clear that not everyone should have made the grade in a memorable epilogue.