The 10 Biggest And Toughest Prisons in the United Kingdom

There are more than 150 prisons in England, Scotland, and Wales. Some of the biggest prisons in the UK have a capacity of more than 1,000 people.

These prisons are made for young and adult offenders and most separate males from female inmates. Here are the 10 largest prisons in the British Isles.

UK prisons are known for some of the most high-profile inmates ranging from ex-football players to lottery winners and journalists. Most of them can be seen from the outside as they’re located in cities such as London or Liverpool.

Table of Contents

The Biggest Prisons in the United Kingdom

1Parc prison1,652
2Wandsworth prison1,562
3Pentonville prison1,308
4Holme House prison1,211
5Risley prison1,095
6Hull prison1,056
7Ranby prison1,034
8Wayland prison1,017
9Belmarsh prison910
10Liverpool prison810

1. Parc Prison: 1,652 inmates

Image: Geograph / kenneth rees

Made for up to 1,652 inmates, the category B prison is found in Bridgend, Wales. It is now the only private prison in Wales and it has been developed on the premises of an old hospital.

Today, the prison houses young and adult males. Convicts are held in cells with sanitation, ventilation, and light. Leisure areas include ping pong and pool locations.

There’s an educational program run by Parc Prison which teaches convicts skills in math, English, and IT.

2. Wandsworth Prison: 1,562 inmates

Image: Geograph / Derek Harper

With a large capacity of 1,562, Wandsworth prison in London is the largest prison in the UK. Wadsworth was redeveloped several times, mostly to increase its inmates’ capacity.

It has been the location of hundreds of executions and multiple negative conflicts mostly related to drug abuse. Today, the prison is making progress as it offers access to multiple workshops.

Wandsworth prisoners also have 2 onsite gyms to choose from. However, it remains a prison that still triggers investigation over the past few years.

Wandsworth is considered the most overcrowded prison in the UK. Even if it was part of the Prison and Safety Reform of 2016, Wandsworth remains overcrowded for large positive changes in its poor incarceration conditions.

3. Pentonville Prison: 1,308 inmates

Image: Flickr / Ben Sutherland

Pentonville is made for up to 1,308 people and it’s located in London. In 1916, Roger Casement known as an Irish revolutionary was executed here.

The prison is often in the middle of many prison-scandal policies. It has been proven to manipulate the figures and the total number of inmates by moving convicts before an inspection.

It is believed its premises are not suitable for a modern prison anymore.

4. Holme House Prison: 1,211 inmates

Image: Geograph / DS Pugh

With a large 1,211 people capacity, the prison is located in Stockton-on-Tees. The prison is designed with both single and shared accommodation cells but it has been subject to multiple riots since its opening in 1992.

Riots started over staff shortages which had to keep convicts inside their cells for longer. Workshops are now held at Holme House Prison. Convicts get to learn woodworking skills, painting, decorating, and industrial printing skills.

5. Risley Prison: 1,095 inmates

Image: Geograph / Thomas Nugent

Designed for up to 1,095 inmates, Risley prison is located in Warrington. The prison is one of the oldest in the kingdom as it was opened in 1964. It was initially made for both men and women.

Since 1990, the prison is only used to incarcerate males.

Risley prison was subject to a few inspections after reports of its convicts feeling unsafe. Sex offenders reported not feeling safe or protected by other inmates from the prison’s staff multiple times.

6. Hull Prison: 1,056 inmates

Image: Wikimedia / Paul Glazzard

Made to house up to 1,056 people, the prison is located in Kingston Upon Hull. It is a local prison which means it’s only made for those who’ve committed crimes locally.

Convicts can now take part in various activities within the prison. For example, they can work in the kitchen or the garden.

Workshops can also be a popular option for prisoners to get busy while held at Hull prison. Charles Bronson was held here. He is known as ‘Britain’s most violent prisoner’.

The activist Tommy Robinson was also held here before being released in 2018.

7. Ranby Prison: 1,034 inmates

Image: Geograph / JThomas

With a capacity of 1,034, the prison is situated in the village of Ranby, next to Retford. Multiple wings with single and double cells with integral sanitation are found here.

Still, multiple reports show many prisoners at Ranby feel unsafe in common areas of the prison.

Other reports show the facilities at Ranby might be outdated. This might be linked to the initial purpose of the premises which only served as a camp for the British Army.

Luke McCormick was imprisoned at Ranby following an incident of drunk driving.

8. Wayland Prison: 1,017 inmates

Image: Wikimedia / Chelb

With a capacity of 1,017, Wayland is situated in Griston, Norfolk. It’s a C-level prison opened in 1985 with concomitant enlargements. The prison is made out of 14 units with 1 separate unit.

All of these units are made for adult males. Most cells here are single cells or of shared accommodation type. Former inmates at Wayland prison include Khalid Masood, a man behind the 2017 Westminster terrorist attacks.

9. Belmarsh Prison: 910 inmates

Image: Wikimedia / Kleon3

Located in London, Belmarsh prison is a category A prison in the area of Thamesmead.

It’s known as the ‘British Guantanamo Bay’ for imprisoning people without a trial or a charge, mostly on the grounds of possible terrorism implications.

But its history goes way back as archeological findings show. Following digging in the area, archeologists found the second oldest wooden trackway in Europe under the prison.

It is believed to be 6,000 years old. In the last couple of years, the prison became famous for locking up Julian Assange, an Australian activist wanted in the US for exposing the murdering of civilians in the Iraq War.

10. Liverpool Prison: 810 inmates

Image: Geograph / Sue Adair

The large Liverpool prison has a capacity of 810 people. The Merseyside prison was opened in 1855 and it now has 8 refurbished wings for its thousands of convicts.

It runs multiple appreciated programs such as the Walton Radio program which runs an in-prison radio station. Convicts even get radio production certificates and they can specialize in music technology within the prison’s walls.

But life behind bars wasn’t always that promising at Liverpool prison.

Multiple inspections showed the lack of leadership in the prison’s staff, leading to multiple new appointments at the management level. Poor care conditions at Liverpool prison led to diseases and even death for some of its convicts.