Blog: Windmills – powering the prisons of the future?

If I think about prisons of the past, the grim prison-ship squatting in the marshes which opens the start of Great Expectations will always grip my imagination. In Charles Dickens’ […]

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By Vicky Ellis

If I think about prisons of the past, the grim prison-ship squatting in the marshes which opens the start of Great Expectations will always grip my imagination.

In Charles Dickens’ novel, the escaped prisoner Magwitch has a pair of shackles soldered back onto the welts on his leg when he’s finally captured again to go back on the ship. Nasty. Whether or not that scene was over-egged by Dickens to excite his Victorian readers, I can’t be sure. But doubtless, prisoners these days have it so much better.

Going on one new project at a prison I’ve just visited, some of them could even be about to get their own energy source – wind power.

Where once a herd of cows grazed on land owned by Standford Prison, two wind turbines now stand watch over the Isle of Sheppey on the Kent coast.

It doesn’t power the prison just yet, only pumping energy straight to the grid but there’s the option to in future. Putting practicalities aside for a brief second, that conjures up a futuristic vision of Her Majesty’s guests in all-green prisons, grey walls replaced with towering grassy mounds, solar panels covering the rooftops, surrounded by turbines.

Back with feet firmly on the ground, the guv’nor herself seemed particularly taken with the turbines. She’s probably the only head of a prison with a wind farm right outside her window, even calling them “graceful”.

I tend to agree. The grace and skill of engineering is always a feat to behold, even if standing at the base of the Standford Hill turbines looking up at their blades was almost enough to make me feel dizzy.

But what do the prisoners make of the turbines themselves? We didn’t have security clearance to get inside and interview any which was a shame, as it would have been fascinating, if unnerving, for someone who’s never stepped foot inside the slammer before.

The prison boss did tell us some of the prisoners could see the turbines from out of their windows too. As the building work took place, speculation about what they were for had been rife: were they meant to cool the inmates down in the summer? Perhaps even bring up water from underground?

While some of those are quite ridiculous, once upon a time powering a prison with wind would have sounded just as mad. I wonder what Dickens would have made of it all?