'I completed my PHD on Friday and on Monday I was in Wormwood Scrubs'

June 1, 2007

A prison governor-turned-academic looks forward to his new role as chair of an inquiry into the penal system.

David Wilson, professor of criminology at the University of Central England in Birmingham, is to chair a high-powered national commission of inquiry into the penal system, set up by the Howard League for Penal Reform. The two-year commission, which will have Cherie Booth as its president, has echoes of the Howard League's influential 1922 report, English Prisons Today . Professor Wilson said the commission would investigate the purpose of prison and the use of community sentences. "We have more people in jail than at any point in history; more women, more young people, and more life-sentence prisoners than the whole of Western Europe combined."

Professor Wilson, a key member of UCE's Centre for Criminal Justice Policy and Research, has been an academic for the past decade, but spent his entire previous working life in the Prison Service. After gaining a history degree at Glasgow University, he took a PhD on the philosophical origins of the American Civil War at Cambridge University's Selwyn College. "I completed my PhD on Friday, and on Monday I became assistant governor of Wormwood Scrubs."

He believes he succeeded because of his willingness to listen and because, as a rugby player, he took part in team games. Latterly, he was head of prison officer training for England and Wales, but before that he was governor of a range of institutions. These included Grendon Prison, where he ran the sex-offender programme, and Woodhill, where he managed the two specialist units for the 12 most disruptive prisoners in England and Wales.

"I came into contact with virtually every British serial killer." This month sees the publication of his latest book, Serial Killers: Hunting Britons and Their Victims, 1960-2006 (Waterside Press).

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