When I was asked last year to prepare a series on prisons I was quite worried that the result was going to be boring. After the first day of filming at HMP Wandsworth we all realised that wasn’t going to be a problem.
The filming was the result of months of negotiation. Our ambition was to give an accurate picture of prison life. We insisted on being given an assurance that we would be provided completely unrestricted access, however uncomfortable the resulting films.
Even after we convinced the Ministry of Justice it took months to find a prison that was prepared to take the risk of giving us free rein. All this time we were also sourcing footage and interviews outside the prison system that would allow us to cover the story in depth.
While filming inside Wandsworth the BBC News team came up against repeated pressure from the authorities, despite the earlier assurances we had received, to limit access to less hostile areas of the prison, as well as threats of violence made by some prisoners.
The result was a series of truly revelatory films which offered a startling insight into the reality of prison life for both inmates and staff. Our films showed that, despite the best efforts of staff, prisoners in the UK inhabit a dangerous environment, undeniably awash with drugs, where violence is commonplace. Learning and rehabilitation were almost impossible, mental health problems were everywhere and staff were at breaking point.
It wasn’t a pretty picture, but one we’re all proud to have been able to paint, and one we hope has made a genuine difference to how prisons are perceived.