The Prisoners

Mon Apr 22, 9-10pm, BBC1

Series one, episode two
This week we’re in the presence of Pentonville’s re-offenders – who are accompanied by a host of jaw-dropping statistics. Mick, 43, has 119 offences under his belt, while Graham is serving his forty-second sentence. We’re told half of prisoners offend again within a year of release.

The ambivalence these prisoners feel about their incarceration is sometimes understandable (Mick is forced to leave prison homeless and practically penniless), sometimes staggering – one thinks life in Pentonville is ‘easy’ because ‘there are no bills to pay’. That's just the tip of the iceberg, though: within prison walls these men seem to regress to a childlike state. Regular meals are cited as a definite pro, staff referred to as ‘Miss’, thank you notes written and ‘cuddles’ talked about. Dirty protests and refusals of food signal trouble. A ‘sorry state of affairs’, as one officer puts it, but also quite a confusing one: this film suggests there is both too much and not enough state intervention in these people’s lives.

Yet anything that can put human faces and stories to those depressing statistics is a worthwhile watch – and an inherently fascinating one too.