Barlinnie special unit

In 1973 the Barlinnie special unit was opened and held prisoners for 21 years.Its aim was to house and rehabilitate Scotland’s most uncontrollable and violent prisoners, prisoners who caused riots , assaulted prison staff as well as other inmates.

Most of these men had spent there sentences in inhumane conditions in Peterhead punishment block as well as the cages in Inverness, protesting against a system that advocated the breaking of the spirit of an individual causing untold physcological damage.

This was a system that was geared more to  punish the individual than to help them rehabilitate.

The special unit gave us the chance to explore through the arts who we were as people in an enviroment that actively encouraged us to talk through any problems instead of lashing out.



Prisoners in the Barlinnie Special Unit were actively encouraged to channel their negative emotions into some sort of art and to be creative.

Censorship was a no no in the BSU so feelings could be conveyed by the written word as well as other art forms.

The Barlinnie Special Unit was run on trust, this was unheard off in prisons in 70’s and 80’s. Being treated with respect and decency impacted greatly on the inmates.

Overall the experiment worked and some of the most violent, disruptive inmates in the system started to change and violence ultimately became a thing of the past.

Today’s prisons have a lot more respect and humanity between prisoners and staff, education is a lot more accessible and long term prisoners have the chance to further their learning.

This almost certainly was influenced by the Barlinnie Special Unit, what do YOU think though?

Drug addiction treatment centers


Prison poems and Prison songs


  1. Hi thank you for this post. I had actually heard about the Barlinnie special unit and how brutal the unit seemed to be. I got to know about it while I was researching to write a thesis on rehabilitation as a facade for punishment in prisons. I discovered various other gruesome facts about some other rehabilitation prisons. Though I didn’t go into too much details on this Barlinnie unit as I couldn’t justify my claims well. I would really love to discover more about this unit through your posts. Thanks

  2. Wow. Never knew that kinds of prisons existed in UK or to be more precise in Scotland. I think that in modern times you would not find the kind of system that was in Barlinnie. You said it well, it more about punishing someone than actually making him become rehabilitated person.

    Most modern societies have abandoned this kind of approach to treating criminal behaviour. I also think that in order to make someone with criminal past, a part of society again – you need to provide help and therapy.



  3. I have been in an American federal prison, the conditions there were not like you describe in the post you made. They do have prisons here that are worse than where I was, but it sounds like Scotland violates civil rights. The new  prison, Barlinnie tries to rehabilitate prisoners rather than punish. They do understand that no matter what you do to some inmates they are never going to change, so they lock the door and throw away the key. Here in the USA they have a prison in Colorado that the inmates never have physical contact with anyone, not even the guards. Everything is automated. Food  is brought to the inmates on a line of moving belts. The only time they have human contact is for medical. You don’t have to be cruel, but something inmates cannot be trusted to be around other guards or inmates. Prison is tough, because you lose time out of your short life, because that is time that is just lost.

    • Thank you David and i do agree that some prisoners are beyond rehabilitation, sadly though prison in America and some prisons in Britain are a for profit , there must be another way for other inmates.

      If you are intrested have a look at Swedens approach.

  4. Interesting post. I never thought that somebody could write about these stuffs. But, cells also exist in the world. It was good to read about Barlinne Special Unit. But of course, I wish that nobody may get the moment in life to spend in a cell as a prisoner. 

    Your video was not nice. Thanks for sharing this post and showing the other dimension of life. 

  5. Hello. First time i hear about Barlinnie special unit. Well judging from results and the video it works. When you isolate people, they can’t become better. Humans are social beings need the social element.

    Talking to people and making them maybe listen to music and make art or any other form of expression facilitates the burden on their heads. Also teaching them a skill helps too for when they get out.

    I’m looking forward to the rest.

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