British Prisons. It was originally the case that gaol was the British spelling of the word that Americans write "jail". (It is pronounced the same.) These days, "jail" is almost universal, and "gaol" looks as old-fashioned as writing "to-day". Time spent in jail is referred to as time "inside", as in: "Did you hear about Gowbo Mitchell? Got done for that bank job he pulled back in '08 - three years inside. Poor sod."
Actually getting sent there- British punishmentsThe court case is over, the jury has returned and delivered a guilty verdict. The judge goes off to consider the sentence, considering the mitigating circumstances, if any. He (or she) returns and then delivers the sentence. They will usually throw in a bit about how evil the crime is. The final line is "Take him/her down". The convict is driven off to prison in a prison van (sometimes known as a "Black Maria", despite the fact that most prison vans are now white). Photographers will (in fact and fiction) point their camera through the (raised) windows, trying to get a photo. As a rule, British punishments tend to be somewhat more lenient than those that cover the whole United Kingdom. You rarely have someone actually receive life without parole (there's 38 prisoners with that sentence as of July 2011). These days, when someone is sentenced to life in prison, the judge will recommend the convict serve a minimum of a certain number of years. Murder is an automatic life sentence, but the judge can set the term. There are some punishments Britain has that aren't common in the rest of the world, such as:
The Actual PrisonsThere are many different versions of these, depending on the setting (some of these appear elsewhere in UK-made and foreign programmes).
Ball and ChainMedieval British prisons. Prisoners end up in rags, manacled to a large metal ball. They are fed bread and water by evil guards. It's your stereotypical dungeon (no, not a place you do BDSM).
Victorian PrisonsCrowded, with dozens of people in a cell. A particular sub-type is the "debtors' prison", where you went to work your debts off if you couldn't pay them. (These were also present in the United States.)
The Glasshouse - Military PrisonA possible setting for works dealing with British soldiers. These started in the 1840s with Aldershot prison - it was called the Glasshouse because of its greenhouse roof, and the nickname spread to all military prisons. Individual prisons tended to be infamous for the particular punishment drills they favored, usually hard physical labor like literal rock-breaking or "the well drill," where soldiers dug out wells and then filled them in so they had a place to dig the next well. Discipline was famously strict if not downright brutal. Today this setting is an anachronism, as British soldiers who are to be imprisoned for more than three months are transferred into the civilian system.
Modern PrisonsThe modern British prison tends to be in a Victorian era building. There are usually two or three people to a cell. These cells tend, in fiction, to have a number of Page Three Stunna pics present. The prison warders (who often call you by your last name, like you're in the UK Armed Forces) will yell at you, if they're not actively supplying you with drugs.
Early ReleaseThe UK's prisons are now officially over capacity, resulting in about 19,000 inmates being released early to make room. The release is only up to 18 days early, subject to restrictions before the sentence is concluded and only for sentences under four years. However, a number of early release prisoners have committed further crimes or gone on the run after being recalled, giving the media another stick to beat the government with.
Famous UK Prisons