This term A ‘level Psychology pupils visited Shepton Mallet Prison for the day. The prison closed in 2013 and since then has been developed into a museum. Students study Forensic Psychology, the nature of offender behaviour as well as dealing with offending behaviour, the aims of custodial sentencing and the psychological effects of custodial sentencing. So, this seemed the ideal place to visit.
On arrival students had to change into orange jumpsuits and were placed in the prison cells! They had to solve a cypher in order to be released, this gave them great hands-on insight into cell life. The prison itself has stood since 1625 and our guide took us on a tour of all its grim history. Parts of the prison housed areas where hard labour was dealt out including a large treadmill that prisoners spent up to 12 hours a day treading the steps to turn the mill that ground corn. Another awful task was picking apart old ropes for ‘oakum’ that was then used to stuff furniture. Women’s hands would become so sore and infected, infection was the cause of many deaths in the prison.
It was interesting to hear about how offending behaviour has been dealt with there over the centuries from stone breaking, hand turning a crank for hours, to education and training.
The most chilling room was the execution room, the last civilian execution in Shepton Mallet Prison was in 1926. During WW2 the prison was occupied by the American Military Custodial Service and at this time there were 768 American servicemen imprisoned. 18 Service men were executed during this period. It was a truly terrifying to be standing in the room that had such a disturbing past.
The prison buildings themselves are used as filmsets for dramas such as ‘Top Boy’ and ‘Des’ starring David Tennent, features of the buildings were designed to slow movement down such as narrow stairwells and low doors. The buildings have also been investigated by the TV programme ‘Ghost Hunters’ Shepton Mallet Prison is the most haunted jail in the world... come and investigate to see what lurks behind the high prison walls in the dead of night. It is possible to book a nighttime torchlit tour to experience the strange silence that fills the grounds and the damp walls carrying only the faintest echo of what’s left behind. We decided to give this tour a miss!
Mrs Utton, Psychology department