In Depth

Prison life: what Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce face now

The dehumanising process of being taken into jail begins almost immediately, says Jonathan Aitken

EIGHT MONTHS each – now what? Chris Huhne will probably be taken to HM Prison Wandsworth and his ex-wife Vicky Pryce to Holloway, the women's prison in Islington, north London. They are two of the country's toughest jails.

While a number of Labour MPs – Elliott Morley and David Chaytor among them - know what prison life is like having been caught up in the expenses scandal, the Radio 4 Today programme sought as its guide the former Conservative MP Jonathan Aitken, who spent seven months in jail in 1999/2000 for perjury.

According to Aitken, it's very unsettling to begin with – and the "dehumanising" process starts almost immediately when they are taken from court in a prison van called "the sweat box".

Aitken remembered the "bad atmospherics" of the van, with one of his fellow prisoners throwing up. Once at their destination, there comes the "completely new and alien" process of being strip-searched, finger-printed and having the prison "mug shot" taken. There's the danger some news prisoners will collapse or even "go beserk" at this early stage.

Once inside, "they are bound to get a bit of cat calling - but no worse than Question Time. I think it is a bit disorientating, tough, but it is not terrible and they will get through it."

In time, Aitken went on, prisoners tend to realise their circumstances are "probably brought on yourself" and undergo a "wintry realism" that they had better just accept the punishment and see it through.

Wandsworth is the biggest prison in Britain with 1,665 prisoners. The Daily Telegraph reports that just last year it was singled out for its "unsafe" and "demeaning" treatment of prisoners who are locked in their cells for 16 hours a day.

Despite an improvement in conditions at HMP Holloway, an inspection in 2010 found nearly 60 per cent of inmates said they felt unsafe. There were 35 incidents a week of self-harm.

Holloway is less than a mile from Highbury where two of the flats in Huhne's extensive property portfolio are located. It's also just up the road from Clerkenwell where Huhne was living with his new partner, Carina Trimingham – until tonight.

Pryce won't have to put up with this for long – she'll likely be moved to a lower security prison within weeks if not days to serve out her sentence. Huhne is likely to have to endure the hardships of Wandsworth or another regular jail before he moves to the relative comfort of an open prison. 

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