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Howard League blog · 21 Dec 2016

What Christmas is really like for people behind bars

Regular as clockwork the stories about ‘convicts’ enjoying ‘belly-busting’ feasts at Christmas appear. The clichéd stories always conjure up the poverty-stricken Dickensian pension as an emotional ploy to make everyone hate these nasty prisoners dining out in luxury.

So what is the truth?

The daily budget for an adult man in prison is around £2 and this has to cover every meal as well as hot drinks. Most prisoners will get a breakfast pack given to them late afternoon or early evening. This comprises a 200ml carton of milk and some cereal. Prisoners can also get sliced bread. Lunch on a normal day will be a baguette or sandwich, some crisps and maybe an apple or banana. Supper will be a hot meal but hardly lavish. You will see that men are not getting their five a day and, although strenuous efforts are made by kitchen managers, the diet is stodgy and lacks fibre and fresh vegetables.

Most prisoners will supplement the prison fare with purchases of sweets, tinned tuna and anything that fills them up.

On Christmas Day, prisoners will get the normal one hot meal. Pre-sliced turkey and vegetables is on offer and prisoners may get a mince pie as a treat. Otherwise it is the baguette and breakfast pack as normal.

A little bit extra on Christmas Day is a small treat in a bleak world.

Staff have told me that they never put up decorations as it just sinks prisoners into depression, reminding them of not being at home.

There is a skeleton staff, as staff want to be at home with their own families. This means that men, women and children are locked up for most of the time. It is grim.

Last year, six men and women hanged themselves in prison over the Christmas holidays.

In a year when the number of people taking their own lives has hit epidemic levels, I expect more people will die this holiday.

So, tabloids and local journalists, when you write the clichés about prisoners feasting, just take a minute to find out what it is really like for people behind bars.


  • tish says:

    People need to know real truths about prison life.I have sons in prison and disgusted at the attitude of some prison officers to prisoners if prisoners were treated with respect and given there human rights instead of being locked up 23 hours and beaten by officers and cover it up.also suicides in which staff should be held responsible for this and governors how many men have being raped in prisons by inmates and prison huge damage that should be stamped out in all prisons this results in a lot of suicides..
    also put prisoners in prison clothes and footwear.stamp out bullying young y.o.I.won’t be starving themselves legalise cannabis. in hmps.

  • Ricky Porter says:

    The tabloids will always exaggerate and sensationalise things just to sell a few more newspapers and get a few more thousand pounds in profit each day.

  • Allison Fackrell says:

    To often unfortunately tabloids print articles without checking their facts !!

  • Alison says:

    Standing with you to pray against suicides in prison this Christmas.

  • jacqui says:

    Well done to the blog above so true ! Unfortunately the truth doesn’t appear to make good journalism( unless someone takes their life) the truth is as stated above re the meals etc as some even go without breakfast as no breakfast packs left, malnutrition must be rife. Im sure its a really difficult time of year for prisoners ( and I’m aware they are in there for a reason) but lets pray that no one takes their own life and has the strength to get through this period. which is often difficult for anyone without the added pressure of being locked up and no contact with family and friends. So next time you read about the wonderful conditions in the prisons in a tabloid take the time to read the factual reports on them.

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