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Ex-inmate: ‘Pentonville would need a fortune spent to make it suitable for today’

John Massey, the country’s longest-serving prisoner, reveals antiquated conditions at jail ridden with cockroaches and rats

17 May, 2018 — By Dan Carrier

John Massey outside Pentonville Prison, the jail he escaped from in 2012 to see his dying mother

BRITAIN’S longest-serving prisoner, who was released last week after 43 years behind bars, says jail conditions in Pentonville are among the worst in the country.

John Massey, 69, famously embarrassed auth­orities by climbing out of the prison in 2012 to see his dying mother.

He has seen the inside of a number of the UK’s prisons after serving more than twice his original sentence for the murder of Charlie Higgins in 1975, partly due to breaking parole conditions and his escapes – each time to see relatives on their deathbed.

After a week of freedom and reflecting on his marathon prison term, he said that the Ministry of Justice needs to do more to rehabilitate men and women who are locked away.

“The British prison system needs urgent reform to help convicts from re-offending,” he said. “I’ve seen the prison population explode, and new substandard jails run by private firms.

“We live in a period where our justice system offers little in terms of rehabilitation or long-term help for the vulnerable. Prisons are understaffed and officers don’t get the training they should have.”

His release, revealed in last week’s Tribune, has sparked a debate, with some readers insistent that he does not deserve to feature in the press, while others believe his life story reveals a judicial system more interested in punishment than rehabilitation.

Mr Massey said there were particular problems at Pentonville Prison, where inmates live in antiquated conditions in a jail Mr Massey said was ridden with cockroaches and rats.

He said: “The simple fact is it is a very old prison, built in a totally different age, and it would need a fortune spent to make it suitable for today.

“There was always talk of it being closed but as the prison population goes up and up, you can only imagine them trying to keep it going any way they can.”

Mr Massey asked: “Why isn’t this country looking to Scandinavia and their penal system? The evidence says it works in terms of very low re-offending rates.

“Their prisons keep the public safe. They curtail prisoners’ freedom, but they also make sure the prisoner learns and changes. Instead, we want to copy America, and fill up our prisons and then build more.”

“It is a conveyor-belt principle. It does not deal with crime or criminality, it does not deal with punishment or rehabilitation.”

He added: “They would rather spend £40m on a new prison instead of looking at ways to help people who have offended so they do not return.”

From what he witnessed, Mr Massey believes drug use creates a raft of issues for prisoners after release.

“It makes a volatile situation much worse,” he said.

On his breakout from Pentonville, he said he was motivated by being refused a home visit to see his mother, May, who was seriously ill.

He said: “I had to find a way of saying goodbye.”

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