A FORMER prison governor is set to lift the lid on life at 'Grisley Risley'.

Brendan O'Friel took over as governor in 1990 after a serious riot destroyed part of the prisoner accommodation a year earlier.

His five years turning the jail around art part of a unique account in a new book to be launched on April 8 called Prison Governor's Journal.

As well as his work in the prison service, Mr O'Friel looks at the wider issues of prisons.

Risley was opened as a Remand Centre in 1965 and quickly acquired a toxic reputation for suicides and dreadful conditions. It was known as “Grisley Risley” for decades. In 1989, there was a serious riot at Risley destroying part of the prisoner accommodation. The Prison Service considered closing the establishment but decided to change its function, invest in new buildings and enlarge the prison.

Brendan O’Friel arrived to take charge of Risley in September 1990 after the trauma of the Strangeways riot. Over the next five years, he and his staff turned Risley round to such an extent that the independent Prison Inspectorate described the establishment in their official1995 report as a “Centre of Excellence”.

Mr O'Friel said: "Among the challenges for Governor and staff was that Risley was one of the few establishments holding both male and female prisoners. A further challenge was introducing a new experimental integrated regime designed to encouraging vulnerable and ordinary male prisoners to work together: this proved to be a considerable success.

"Opportunities for prisoners to improve their education and skills also brought an encouraging response, as did efforts to engage prisoners in activities to assist the local community and to reduce their prospects of re-offending on release.

"Risley received a number of high profile visits including by HRH the Princess Royal. Lord Justice Woolf – whose report on the 1990 Strangeways riots was so influential – also visited to officially open much of the new accommodation."

Turning to his wider experiences in the Prison Service, Brendan O’Friel describes how prisons in England and Wales have weathered a succession of crises since 1947. He considers the impact of cell overcrowding and regime destruction on both staff and prisoners. He raises fresh and difficult questions about the origins and legality of the practice of overcrowding prison cells.

The consequential inability to reduce re-offending, he argues, generates continuing threats to public safety.

Drawing on his thirty years of service as a Governor, he explores some 'unanswered questions' arising from the chronic prison crises. He provides insights into life not just at Risley but in the six other penal establishments in which he served, including the 'explosion of evil' – his story of the Strangeways riot of April 1990.

He describes his involvement in the difficult formation of the Prison Governors Association in 1987, and the work of the Association to influence and improve penal policy and practice.

The 2020 Covid 19 Pandemic has added substantially to the prisons crisis but Brendan O’Friel suggests it may also offer a surprising opportunity for radical change

The book includes illustrations, cartoons, line drawings and verse, some of these the work of prisoners at Risley.

Further details about the book can be found on the promotional website prisongovernorjournal.com