Thursday, 30 December 2010

From the Inside - Reception

These quotes from former prisoners were originally published on the No More Prison Website

"I had been in institutions all my life and I knew that for self-survival, it paid to be deferential. Peter was new to the whole regime and held his head up high, nonchalantly acknowledging the officer's commands. His resistance was not to last long.

'Oi, you, Paki! You're in detention now,' screamed one of the screws and whacked him around the ear. Another grabbed him by the collar and threw him to the ground. The other screws closed in and began laying into the poor bastard, who was only a fragile lad. At the same time, they shouted obscenities and racist names at him.......

Peter was probably thinking that this was a tough way to start detention but, in fact, the reception ritual had barely started. We were bundled from one room to another, all the time being told what little scumbags we were and how we were going to be sorted out. In one room I was told to look at a poster of the Firearms Act on the wall. A screw told me to look at it more closely so I leaned nearer the wall.

'Even closer' he ordered, so I pushed my face an inch away from the wall. I'd gone totally boz-eyed and couldn't read a thing but pretended to, all the same. Suddenly, he punched the back of my head, smashing it against the wall and busting my nose. Blood was pouring everywhere and he just looked at me and laughed"

Frank Cook (1998) Hard Cell Page19/20

"Well it was nothing I had ever expected, I didn't know anything about prison. I had never read anything about prison. I was sitting there in total amazement, watching this happen to me. I wasn't actually participating in it. It was total isolation from it. I was in shock, sitting in a room with chairs, in dressing gowns, so called, with your clothes folded up beside you, with women who appeared to know each other and didn't know you."

Judith cited in Mary Eaton, (1993) Women after Prison, Page 23

"I put on this act that I was hard, prison was nothing to me, I wasn't scared and I was going to get through. I went to prison in one of the little cubicle vans, like a van but inside its got lots of cubicles. You were locked in. You sit there in a cage until you get to the prison and file out. Although I'd pulled myself together to a certain extent, it was like a dream, it wasn't like it was really happening, it was like I was taking precautions in case it really was happening. I was chatting away with the other girls like it was a normal thing, an everyday thing to go to prison. And when we were going through reception we had to take all our clothes off and do a twirl in front of the officers. I'd never experienced anything like that before in my life - absolutely stripped naked with nothing, nothing at all, not a ring, nothing. And you had to stick your arms out and twirl. You do it because there's all these people in uniform there and you're frightened that they'll pounce on you if you don't and they probably would if you didn't anyway. I think that woke me up a little bit, after that I was really frightened."

Cara cited in Mary Eaton, (1993) Women after Prison, Page 24

"Reception! A word that can conjure up a variety of functions. The wedding celebration; the formal party; the ovation that may greet the appearance of any public figure. The average person would never connect it with prison. To me, now, it can never mean anything else. Even those who have been inside for ten years or more the first hours of imprisonment are as indelibly printed on their minds as though they had happened only the day before."

Joan Henry (1954) Who lie in Gaol Page 17

"They shone a torch down my gob, made me strip naked, checked my hair for lice and handed me a prison uniform"

Ricky Tomlinson (2003) Ricky Page 134

"the prison officer at reception checked and logged my belongings......I had the first of many strip-searches to come. This was a terror for me. I thought they would poke around inside my private orifices. To my enormous relief they did not. I got looked up and down and turned around, but was allowed to keep the top or bottom half of my body covered at any one time - an embarrassment nonetheless but a lot better than I had feared.

Then I got locked in a room with six fellow prisoners being booked in with me. Five of them were heroin users and the sixth was on remand for stabbing her violent boyfriend when they had both been drunk."

Ruth Wyner (2003) From the inside Page 17

Friday, 24 December 2010

Dear Santa

This was originally published on the No More Prison Website in December 2007

By Alison Henderson

Dedicated to Sandra currently residing in HMP Styal.

Dear Santa,

Me and Mum would always write

dear Santa Claus a note,

but this year Mum won't be around

so this is what I wrote:

Dear Santa if I had one wish

to make all on my own,

it would be to release my Mum

and let her please come home.

Grandma makes the Christmas roast

with lots of food to eat,

but this year in the dining room

there'll be an empty seat.

I know it's far too much to ask

so this year there's no wish,

but Santa could I ask you to

deliver my Mum this.................

Trust me Mum you will get through

don't cry or shed a tear,

we'll celebrate our Christmas day

when you come home next year.

You told us to enjoy ourselves

but I can't promise that,

I'll miss you telling Christmas jokes

wearing your party hat.

I love you Mum with all my heart

be strong and please don't cry,

Christmas day will come and go

and time will soon fly by.

I know you made a big mistake

but what is done is done,

prison's stole our Christmas but....

they'll never steal my Mum.

To Mum With Love.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Abolition and Crime Control - Willem De Haan

Abolition and Crime Control

by Willem De Haan

An abolitionist perspective on crime control might seem like a contradiction in terms not unlike a peace research approach to waging a war. Abolitionism is based on the moral conviction that social life should not and, in tact, cannot he regulated effectively by criminal law and that, therefore, the role of the criminal justice system should be drastically reduced while other ways of dealing with problematic situations, behaviours and events are being developed and put into practice. Abolitionists regard crime primarily as the result of the social order and are convinced that punishment is not the appropriate reaction. Instead a minimum of coercion and interference with the personal lives of those involved and a maximum amount of care and sci vice for all members of society is advocated.

The term 'abolitionism' stands for a social movement, a theoretical perspective and a political strategy. As a social movement committed to the abolition of the prison or even the entire penal system, abolitionism originated in campaigns for prisoners' rights and penal reform. Subsequently, it developed into a critical theory and praxis concerning crime, punishment and penal reform. As a theoretical perspective, abolitionism takes on the two-fold task of providing a radical critique of the criminal justice system while showing that there are other, more rational ways of dealing with crime. As a political strategy, abolitionism is based on an analysis of penal reform and restricted to negative reforms, such as abolishing parts of the prison system, rather than providing concrete alternatives.

The abolitionist perspective will be discussed along the lines of this distinction. 1irt. we will deal with abolitionism as a penal reform movement, then as a theoretical perspective on crime and punishment and, more specifically, the prison. et. a conceptualisation of the notions of crime and punishment will be offered in the form of the concept of redress. At the same time, strategies for penal reform will be examined. Finally, the implications of the abolitionist perspective for crime control will be discussed. In conclusion, it will be argued that what is needed is a wide variety of social responses rather than a uniform state reaction to the problem of crime. In policy terms it is claimed that social policy instead of crime policy is needed in dealing with the social problems and conflicts that are currently singled out as the problem of crime.


Abolitionism emerged as an anti-prison movement when, at the end of the 1960s, a destructuring impulse took hold of thinking about the social control of deviance and crime among other areas (Cohen, 1985). In Western Europe, anti-prison groups aiming at prison abolition were founded in Sweden and Denmark (1967) Finland and Norway (I968), (Great Britain (1970), France (1970), and the Netherlands (1971). Their main objective was to soften the suffering which society inflicts on its prisoners. This implied a change in general thinking concerning punishment, humanization of the various forms of imprisonment in the short run and, m the long rim, the replacement of the prison system by more adequate and up-to-date measures of crime control.

It has been suggested that abolitionism typically emerged in small countries or countries with little crime and 'would never have been "invented" in a count r like the United States of America with its enormous crime rate, violence, ami criminal justice apparatus' (Scheerer, 1986: 18). However, in Canada and the United States family members of (ex-)convicts, church groups and individuals were also engaged in prisoners' support work and actively struggling for prison reform. More specifically, these prison abolitionists in the United States considered their struggle for abolition of prisons to be a historical mission, a continuation and fulfilment of the struggle against slavery waged by their forebears. Imprisonment is seen as a form of blasphemy, as morally objectionable and indefensible and, therefore, to be abolished (Morris, 1976: II). To this aim, a long-term strategy in the form of a three-step 'attrition model' is proposed, consisting of a total tree/e on the planning and building of prisons, excarceration of certain categories of lawbreakers by diverting them from the prison system and decarceration, or the release of as many inmates as possible.

Originating in prison reform movements in the 1960s and 1970s in both Western Europe and North America, abolitionism developed as a new paradigm in (critical) criminology and as an alternative approach to crime control. As academic involvement increased and abolitionism became a theoretical perspective, its focus widened from the prison system to the penal system, thereby engaging in critical analyses of penal discourse and, in particular, the concepts of crime and punishment, penal practices, and the penal or criminal justice system.

As a theoretical perspective abolitionism has a negative and a positive sale. Negatively, abolitionism is deeply rooted in a criticism of the criminal justice system and its 'prison solution' to the problem of crime. Positively, on the basis of this criticism an alternative approach to crime and punishment is offered both in theory and in practice. Thus, the abolitionist approach is essentially reflexive and (de)constructivist. We will first take a look at the negative side of abolitionism which will be followed by a brief expose of its positive side.

From the abolitionist point of view, the criminal justice system's claim to protect people from being victimized by preventing and controlling crime, seems grossly exaggerated. Moreover, the notion of controlling crime by penal intervention is ethically problematic as people are used for the purpose of 'deterrence', by demonstrating power and domination. Punishment is seen as a self-reproducing form of violence. The penal practice of blaming people for their supposed intentions (for being bad and then punishing and degrading them accordingly) is dangerous because the social conditions for recidivism are thus reproduced. Morally degrading and segregating people is especially risky when the logic of exclusion is reinforced along the lines of differences in sex, race, class, culture or religion.

For the abolitionist, current crime policies are irrational in their assumptions that: crime is caused by individuals who for some reason go wrong; that crime is a problem for the state and its criminal justice system to control; and that criminal law and punishment or treatment of individual wrongdoers are appropriate means of crime control (Steinert, 1986). Crime control is based on the fallacy of taking pars pro toto or, as Wilkins (I984) has put it, crime control policy is typically made by reference to the dramatic incident, thereby assuming that all that is necessary is to get the micro-model right in order for the macro-model to follow without further ado. According to Wilkins, we must consider nor only the specific criminal act but also the environment in which it is embedded. It could be added that the same argument holds for punishment and, more specifically, for imprisonment as an alleged solution to the problem of crime.


For abolitionists, the United States is a prime example of a country suffering from the consequences of a punitive obsession. In the course of a 'get tough' policy of crime control, increasing numbers of people are being sent to prison for longer periods of time. As a result, the prison population in the United States has increased dramatically from roughly 350,000 in the 1970s to 850,000 at the end of the 1980s. Almost 80 per cent of the recent increase in prison admissions is accounted for by drugs offenders. By September 1988 about 44 per cent of all federal prisoners were incarcerated for drug law violations. According to the 1989 National Council of Crime and Delinquency Prison Population Forecast the impact of the 'war on drugs' will be yet another increase of the prison population 1989-1994 by over 68 per cent to a total of 1,1 53,000 prisoners among whom people of colour will remain strongly over-represented. With an incarceration rate of 440 prisoners per 100,000 population, the United States will more than consolidate its top rank position in the world. Even with its incarceration rate increasing from about 30 in 1980 to about 50 'n the mid-1990s, the Netherlands will remain at the bottom end of the scale. At the same time, the crime problem in the Netherlands can hardly be considered worse than in the United States.

As in the United States, 'street crime' is also considered a major social problem in the Netherlands. In fact, the first International Crime Survey (van Dijk et al., 1990) showed that overall victimization rates 1983-1988 in the United States and the Netherlands were higher than in any other country in the survey. However, there were considerable differences both in the seriousness of the crime problem and the effectiveness of its control. Whereas overall victimisation rates in the Netherlands and the United States were similarly high, in the Dutch case this was strongly influenced by the extraordinarily high prevalence of bicycle theft, whereas victimisation rates for homicide, robbery and (sexual) assault were particularly high in the United States.

If anything, this proves that the relationship between crime and crime control by imprisonment is much more complex than proponents of the prison solution seem to assume. In terms of protection the 'get tough' approach to crime control has little to offer, and the 'war on drugs' can never be won but has serious repercussions.

Taken together, the prison system is counter-productive, difficult to control, and itself a major social problem. Therefore, abolitionists have given up entirely on the idea that the criminal justice system has anything to offer m terms of protection. They are also pessimistic about the criminal law's potential for conflict resolution. It is felt that the present penal system is making things worse, not better.

In the course of the 'war against drugs' which is currently being waged in the United States and many other countries around the world, the use ol ethically problematic techniques for apprehending suspects is being condoned if not required. As a result various forms of organisational complicity undermine the already waning legitimacy of the criminal justice system even further. According to Roshier (1989), the 'war against drugs' must be seen as a forced attempt to reach efficiency in the held of law enforcement or, at least, the appearance of it by using purely technical or even military means of surveillance and policing. It is the criminal justice system that defines, selects, documents and disposes of crime. As a result, legal definitions of suspicion, criminal offence etc., are being stretched. Thus, the criminal justice system itself increasingly specifies both the nature of the crime problem and what is to be done about it (Roshier, I989: I28).

Thus, the criminal justice system is part of the crime problem rather than its solution. Not only does it tail to work in terms of its own stated goals and not only are the negative consequences of the infliction of suffering by the state threatening to get out of hand but, more importantly, it is based on a fundamentally flawed way of understanding. Therefore, there is no point in trying to make the criminal justice system more effective or more just. The abolitionist critique of the criminal justice system and its approach to crime control may be summarised by saying that it this is the solution, what is the problem? Or, put differently, crime as a social problem and object of social analysis needs to be rethought.

The current approach to crime control, the definition of crime and the justification of punishment is 'systemic', that is, based on an instrumentalist point of view and confined within the limits of the criminal justice system. From an abolitionist point of view, these issues require a fundamental reconceptualization in a broader social context. This is where the alternative, positive side of abolitionism starts from. Abolitionists argue that there is no such thing as 'crime'. In fact, 'the very form of criminal law, with its conception of "crime" (not just the contents of what is at a given time and place defined into that category, but the category itself) and the ideas on what is to be done about it, are historical "inventions'" (Steinert, ll'S6: 26).

'Crime' is a social construction, to be analysed as a myth of everyday life (Hess, 1986). As a myth, crime serves to maintain political power relations and lends legitimacy to the expansion of the crime control apparatus and the intensification of surveillance and control. It justifies inequality and relative deprivation. Public attention is distracted from more serious problems and injustices. Thus, the bigger the social problems are, the greater the need for the crime myth (Hess, 1986: 24-5).

However, not only should the concept of crime be discarded (Hulsman, 1986), but we need to get rid of the theories of crime as well. As Quensel (1987) has pointed out, theories about 'crime' acquire their plausibility largely by virtue of their building on and, at the same time, reinforcing an already-present 'deep structure'. One element of this 'deep structure' is the notion that 'crime' is inherently dangerous and wicked; another is that crime control is a 'value-inspired' call for action against that evil (p. 129).

Abolitionists argue that the crucial problem is not explaining but rather understanding crime as a social event. Thus, what we need is not a better theory of crime, hut a more powerful critique of crime. This is not to deny that there are all sorts of unfortunate events, more or less serious troubles or conflicts which can result in suffering, harm, or damage to a greater or lesser degree. These troubles are to he taken seriously, of course, but not as 'crimes' and, in any case, they should not be dealt with by means of criminal law. When we fully appreciate the complexity of a 'crime' as a socially constructed phenomenon any simplified reaction to crime in the form of punishment becomes problematic.

Spector (1981) has argued that when a person offends, disturbs, or injures other people, various forms of social disapproval exist to remedy the situation. The matter may be treated as a disease, a sin, or, indeed, as a crime. However, other responses are also feasible, like considering the case as a private conflict between the offender and the victim or defining the situation in an administrative way and responding, for example by denial of a licence, permit, benefit or compensation. Our images, language, categories, knowledge, beliefs and fears of troublemakers are subject to constant changes. Nevertheless, crime continues to occupy a central place in our thinking about troublesome people ( I ^S I: I S4). Spector suggests that, perhaps, 'we pay too much attention to crime because the disciplines that study trouble and disapprove - sociology and criminology - were born precisely in the era when crime was at its zenith? (Quenscl, 1987; Spector, 1981).

The concept of 'crime' figures prominently in common sense and has definite effects on it. By focusing public attention on a definite class of events, these 'crimes' can then be almost automatically seen as meriting punitive control. 'Punishment' is thereby regarded as the obvious and proper reaction to 'crime'.


Abolitionists do not share the current belief in the criminal law's capacity for crime control. They radically deny the utility of punishment and claim that there can be no valid justification for it, particularly since other options are available for law enforcement. They discard criminal justice as an absurd idea. It is ridiculous to claim that one pain can or, indeed, ought to be compensated by another state-inflicted one. According to them, the 'prison solution' affects the moral quality of life in society at large. Therefore, the criminal justice perspective needs to be replaced by an orientation towards all avoidance of harm and pain (Steinert, 1986: 25). Christie (1982), particularly, has attacked the traditional justifications for punishment. He criticizes deterrence theory for its sloppy definitions of concepts, its immunity to challenge, and for the fact that it gives the routine process of punishment a false legitimacy in an epoch where the infliction of pain might otherwise have appeared problematic. The neo-classicism of the justice model is also criticized: punishment is justified and objectified, the criminal is blamed, the victim is ignored, a broad conception of justice is lacking, and a 'hidden message' is transmitted which denies legitimacy to a whole series of alternatives which should, in fact, be taken into consideration. However, Christie not only criticizes the 'supposed justifications' for punishment, but also claims a decidedly moral position with regard to punishment, which is the intentional infliction of pain which he calls 'moral rigorism'. He deliberately co-opts the terms 'moralism' and 'rigorism' associated primarily with protagonists of 'law and order' and more severe penal sanctions. His 'rigorist' position, however, is that there is no reason to believe that the recent level of pain infliction is the right or natural one and that there is no other defensible position than to strive for a reduction of man-inflicted pain on earth. Since punishment is defined as pain, limiting pain means an automatic reduction of punishment.

More recently, Christie and Mathiesen have both suggested that the expansion of the prison system involves general ethical and political questions such as what could be the effects of all the punishments taken together? What would constitute an acceptable level of punishment in society? What would be the right prison population within a country? 1 low should we treat fellow human beings? And. last but not least, how do we want to meet the crime problem (Christie, 1986; Mathiesen, 1986)?

However, in common-sense and legal discourse alike, 'crime' and 'punishment' continue to be seen 'as independent species - without reference to their sameness or how continuity of both depends on the character ot dominating institutions' (Kennedy, 1974: 107). It should be kept in mind, however, that crime comprises but one of several kinds of all norm violations, that punishment is but one of many kinds of reprisals against such violations, that criteria for separating them refer to phenomena external to actual behaviours classed by legal procedure as crime versus punishment, and that even within the criminal law itself, the criteria by which crime is identified procedural!)- apply with equal validity to punishment (Kennedy. I974: 108).

Criminology needs to rid itself of those theories of punishment which assume there are universal qualities in forms of punishment or assume a straightforward connection between crime and punishment. Given the perseverance of this conventional notion of 'punishment' as essentially a 'good' against an 'evil', any effort at changing common-sense notions of 'crime' and 'crime control' requires a reconceptualization of both concepts: 'crime' and 'punishment'.

We need to concern ourselves with the interrelationship and combined effects of crime and punishment. Crime and punishment are closely related with 'social negativity' (Baratta, 1986), destructive developments within contemporary society, in particular, as they affect its already most vulnerable members. In order to formulate a convincing politics of penal reform, crime and punishment should not be seen as action and reaction, but as spiralling cycles of harm (Pepinsky, 1986).

Elsewhere, I have introduced the concept of 'redress' as an alternative to both the concepts of 'punishment' and 'crime' (de Haan, 1990). This seemingly 'obsolete' concept carries an elaborate set of different meanings. The Concise Oxford Dictionary offers a wide variety of meanings for 'redress': for instance, to put right or in good order again, to remedy or remove trouble of any kind, to set right, repair, rectify something suffered or complained of like a wrong, to correct, amend, reform or do away with a bad or faulty state of things, to repair an action, to atone a misdeed or offence, to save, deliver from misery, to restore or bring back a person to a proper state, to happiness or prosperity, to the right course, to set a person right by obtaining or (more rarely) giving satisfaction or compensation for the wrong or loss sustained, teaching, instructing and redressing the erroneous by reason (Sixth Edition. 1976: 937).

To claim redress is merely to assert that an undesirable event has taken place and that something needs to be done about it. It carries no implications concerning what sort of reaction would be appropriate; nor does it define reflexively the nature of the initial event. Since claiming redress invites an open discussion about how an unfortunate event should be viewed and what the appropriate response ought to be, it can be viewed as a rational response par excellence. It puts forth the claim for a procedure rather than for a specific result. Punitive claims already implied in defining an event as a 'crime' are opened up to rational debate. Thus, to advocate 'redress' is to call for 'real dialogue' (Christie, 1982). Christie has suggested that social systems be constructed in ways that 'crimes' are more easily seen as expressions of conflicting interests, therein- becoming a starting-point for a 'real dialogue' (1982: 11).

The conceptual innovation suggested here offers a perspective for a politics of redress, aimed at the construction and implementation of procedures along the lines of an ethic of practical discourse. As we have seen, the handling of normative conflicts by rational discourse presupposes other procedures than the present criminal ones. In order to increase chances for participation for those involved, procedures based on the rules and preconditions of rational discourse would, therefore, need to be established outside the realm of criminal law; that is in civil law or even in the life world itself. Instead of the panacea which the criminal justice system pretends to provide for problems of crime control, abolitionism seeks to remedy social problems, conflicts, or troubles within the context of the real world, taking seriously the experiences of those directly involved and taking into account too the diversity which is inherent [in] the social world. The aim of a politics of redress would be to 'arrange it so that the conflict settling mechanisms themselves, through their organization reflect the type of society we should like to see reflected and help this type of society come into being' (Christie, 1982: 1 13). Social problems °r conflicts might be absorbed in order to use them as valuable aids to the social integration of real life and the prevention of social harm.

Abolitionism assumes that social problems or conflicts are unavoidable as they are inherent to social life as such. Therefore, they will have to be dealt with in one way or another. Rather than delegating them to professional specialists, however, they should be dealt with under conditions of mutuality and solidarity. These very conditions will have to be created by social and political action.

The urgent question that remains, of course, is how this might be done. To begin with, no single solution to the problem should be expected. Taking into account the diversity of relevant social phenomena requires the development of a wide variety of forms of social regulation which are not located in or defined by the state but operate (semi-)autonomously as alternative, progressive and emancipatory forms of dispute settlement and conflict resolution.

In reaction to the deeply felt dissatisfaction with the present penal system and, more generally, with the legal system, we see an increasing interest in 'autonomous' forms of conflict resolution and dispute settlement. Other "styles of social control' (Black, 1976: 4-5) are seen as attractive, promising to provide the parties involved with more chances for participation in settling a dispute or problem. The aim is compensation rather than retaliation; reconciliation rather than blame allocation. To this end, the criminal justice system needs to be decentralised and neighbourhood courts established as a complement or substitute.

The development of alternative procedures for conflict resolution and dispute settlement faces some rather ticklish questions which have proved intractable in current debates, questions concerning voluntarism versus determinism, 'accountability', 'responsibility' and 'guilt', that is, the moral evaluation of behaviour, the fair allocation of blame and the proper dissemination ot consequences. Emphasis on participatory processes of definition or the contcxtuality of conflicts may be welcome, but it can also lead to problematic outcomes. Among the wide variety of reactions the notion of redress entails there might be sanctions which need to be subjected to legal principles and restraints. For these reasons, legal form is still required to ensure fairness. Just as we need sociological imagination to ensure an open discussion, we need legal imagination to be able to put an end to potentially endless debates as well as allow (or the possibility of appeal.

However, by allowing for more complexity in the interpretation of social behaviour, social situations and events, the simplistic image' of human beings and their activities currently employed in criminal law and reproduced m criminal justice could be avoided. Through contcxtualisation, the dichotomised character of criminal justice (Christie, 1986: 96) could be replaced with a continuum. Participants would be urged to confront and grapple with complexities around notions of human 'agency', 'intentionahty', 'responsibility' and 'guilt' rather than reducing them to manageable proportions by applying the binary logic of criminal law. By dropping the simplistic dichotomies of the criminal law and allowing for differential meanings, justice might finally be done to the complexity of human actions and social events. Such a discourse would feature a concept of 'social responsibility' allowing for interpretations which primarily blame social systems rather than individuals (Christie, 1986: 97).

Initially, a political strategy had been developed on the bases of the experiences of prison reform groups in their political struggle for penal and social reform. This 'politics of abolition' (Mathiesen, 1974, 1986) consistently refuses to offer 'positive alternatives or solutions. It restricts itself to advancing open-ended, 'unfinished?, 'negative' reforms, such as abolishing parts of the prison system. This requires that the}1 be conceptualized in terms alien to current criminal justice discourse.

More recently, positive alternatives to punishment are also being considered. Various proposals have been made by abolitionists and others to decentralize or even completely dismantle the present penal system in order to create forms of 'informal justice' as an addition to or replacement of the present criminal justice system.

Their implementation also raises many questions, however, concerning allegations about widening the net of social control and, at the same time, thinning the mesh, extending and blurring the boundaries between formal penal intervention and other, informal forms of social control, thereby masking the coercive character of alternative interventions (Abel, 1982: Cohen, 1985).

Fundamental reform of the penal system requires not only imaginative alternatives but, at the same time, a radical change in the power structure. Thus a 'politics of abolition' aims at a negative strategy for changing the politics of punishment by abolishing not only the criminal justice system but also the repressive capitalist system part by part or step by step (Mathiescn, 1986).

A fundamental reform of the penal system presupposes not only a radical change of the existing power structure hut also of the dominant culture. However, currently there is no appropriate social agency for any radical reform of the politics of punishment. There seems no immediate social basis upon which a progressive, let alone an abolitionist, strategy of crime control might be spontaneously constructed (Matthews, 1987: 389). Abolitionists tend to refer to the re-emergence of the subcultures of the new social movements with their own infrastructure of interaction and communication and their new ethics of solidarity, social responsibility, and care (Stcinert, I986: 28-9; see also Christie, 1982: 7.S-80). As Harris argues, the inadequacy of virtually all existing reform proposals lies in the failure to step outside the traditional and dominant ways of framing the issues. To explore alternative visions of justice we need to consider 'philosophies, paradigms, or models that transcend not only conventional criminological and political lines, hut also natural and cultural boundaries and other limiting habits of the mind' (Harris. 1987: 11). According to Harris a wide range of visions ot a better world and a better future offer a rich resource for a fundamental rethinking of our approach to crime and justice. The new social movements, in particular the women's movement, have pointed out fundamental weaknesses or biases in criminology's background assumptions, conceptual frameworks, methodology and tacit morality (Gelsthorpe and Morris, I990). However, the relationship between abolitionism and, for example, feminism is not without stress (van Swaaningen, 1989).


Abolitionism argues for a structural approach to the prevention of 'social negativity', or redressing problematic situations by taking social problems, conflicts and troubles seriously but not as 'crime'. Therefore, abolitionism argues for social policy rather than crime control policy. Examples of this structural approach would be dealing vith drug problems in terms of mental health, with violence in terms of social Pathology, and with property crime in terms of economy.

Abolitionism calls for decriminalization, depcnalization, destigmatization, decentralization and deprofessionalization, as well as the establishment of other, informal, participatory, (semi-)autonomous ways of dealing with social problems.

Problematic events may just as well be defined as social troubles, problems or conflicts due to negligence or caused by 'accident' rather than by purpose or criminal intent. What is needed is a wide variety of possible responses without a priori assuming criminal intent and responsibility.

As we have seen, prison abolition, let alone penal abolition, requires an imaginative rethinking of possible ways of handling problematic situations as social problems, conflicts, troubles, accidents etc., as well as reconceptualizing punishment and developing new ways of managing 'deviance' on the basis of, at least partial, suspension of the logic of guilt and punishment. Without fixation on individual guilt, responsibility and punishment, 'crimes' would appear as 'conflicts', 'accidents' or 'problematic events' to be dealt with in a more reasonable and caring way by using forms of conflict management which are not exclusively geared towards individuals and confined to the limitations of criminal law in the books as well as in action (Steinert, 1986: 30). Therefore, abolitionists focus instead on extra-legal, autonomous ways for dealing with social problems and conflicts involving offences. The abolitionist challenge to abolish the present prison system now is to construct more participatory, popular or socialist forms of penality ((Garland and Young, 1983).

This way of looking at crime and crime control is, of course, controversial. The abolitionist perspective is sometimes critized for being naive and idealistic. In practice, however, the abolitionist approach turns out to be realistic in that social problems and conflicts are seen as inherent to social life. Since it is illusory that the criminal justice system can protect us effectively against such unfortunate events, it seems more reasonable to deal with troubles pragmatically rather than by approaching them in terms of guilt and punishment. Effectively to prevent and control unacceptable situations and behaviours requires a variety of social responses, one and only one of which is the criminal justice system. Its interventions are more of symbolic importance than ot practical value. With some social, technical and organizational imagination 'crime' could be coped with in ways much more caring for those immediately involved. A variety ot procedures could be established and institutionalized where social problems or conflicts, problematic events or behaviours could be dealt with through negotiation, mediation, arbitration, at intermediate levels. For dealing with the most common or garden varieties of crime, which is in any case the vast bulk ot all recorded criminality, criminal prosecutions are simply redundant.

Certainly for those who are most directly concerned there is little or no benefit. Also in such cases as state or corporate crime where a kill abolitionist agenda of dispute settlement - like the criminal justice approach - has profound limitations, it does make sense to look for more workable alternatives to the criminal justice system's mechanisms of apprehension, judgment and punishment. Most of these problems could be dealt with by means of economic, administrative, environmental, health or labour law, rather than by criminal law. Even in cases where a person has become an unacceptable burden to his or her relatives or community, imprisonment could be avoided. Agreements might be reached or orders might be given about temporary or permanent limitations in access to certain people, places or situations. The problems of the really bad and the really mad remain. In these relatively few cases and by way of last resort it might be unavoidable to deprive someone of their liberty, at least for the time being. This exceptional decision should be simply in order to incapacitate and be carried out in a humane way, that is as a morally problematic decision in a dilemma. However, even in these cases it would make sense to look for more just and humane alternatives based on mutual aid, good neighbourliness and real community rather than continue to rely on the solutions of bureaucracies, professionals and the centralized state. Criticism of the inhumanity and irrationality of the prison solution is as valid today as it was twenty or seventy years ago. Therefore, Cohen suggests that three interrelated strategies be followed: first, cultivating an experimental and inductive attitude to the actual historical record of alternatives, innovations and experiments; secondly, being sensitive, not just to failures, co-options and con-tricks, but to success stories - the criterion for success should be, and can be nothing other than, an approximation to preferred values; and thirdly, escaping the clutches of criminology (radical or realistic) by expanding the subject of social control way beyond the scope of the criminal justice system (for example, to systems of informal justice, Utopian communes and experiments in self-help) (Cohen, I 988: 131).

In countries with an elaborate welfare system like the Scandinavian countries or the Netherlands, these strategies may seem more reasonable given that their crime problem is less dramatic and, traditionally, their crime control policy is already more cautions. In the context of a relatively mild penal climate with a pragmatic and reductionist penal policy already being implemented, even penal abolition may seem realistic as a long-term goal. However, in those countries where prison populations are enormous and penal institutions are simply 'warehousing' people in order to incapacitate them from reoffendmg, prison abolition is more acute. When in the early 1970s several commissions and task forces concluded that the American prison system is beyond reform and, therefore, other ways of dealing with criminal offenders need to be developed, the prison population was about one-third of the current one. These criticisms hold true even more under the present conditions of overcrowding in the prisons. Prisons are places where a lot more harm is done than is necessary or legitimate. Moreover, these institutions contribute to a further brutal-ization of social conditions. Hven in the United States where average prison sentences are much longer than tor example in the Netherlands, 99 per cent of the prison population will sooner or later hit the streets again. Therefore, there is a definite need not only tor prison reform but also for penal reform. Current crime control policy boils down to doing more of the same. In the long run, however, the resulting spiral of harm needs to be reversed in a downward direction. This can only be achieved by doing more rather than less, albeit not more of the same but more of what generally might be called care.

Monday, 6 December 2010


I hate this fuckin system and what it's done to me
It put me in a prison cell and it's taken my "liberty"
The bastards never try to see, they never take the time
To see why people, like you and me, take up a life of crime

They say we do it for a laugh, they say we think it's funny
But we only do it cause we're poor and cause we need the money
We get a giro from the broo, that should get you by
If they think that'll keep you going, why don't they fuckin try

They say it's no excuse for stealing things and taking drink and drugs
They say we're just a bunch of hooligans, a gang of evil thugs
We search every day in vain for work, but jobs are now so rare
And taking drink and drugs shows the depth of our despair

Your police are legal terrorists as far as I can see
Cause every time they get a chance they kick the fuck out of me
And when they've had their bit of fun, they throw me in a cell
One day we'll round them up and blow them all to hell

A white car with flashing lights and red stripes on the side
They're out to give us trouble, but this time I will not hide
Why do they always hound us and never give us peace
I think they must love violence, its legal for the police

To clear their books they'll charge you with any unsolved crime
Don't say it doesn't happen cause it happens all the time
A lot of us have done time for things we didn't do
Then the system kicks up fuck when someone chibs a screw

A screw is not a superman no matter what you read
If you go up and slash his jaw the bastards bound to bleed
If I saw a screw all stabbed to fuck, I wouldn't just walk by
I'd find myself a comfy seat and watch the bastard die

So to the bastard who arrested me I thought I'd let you know
I won't be here forever, one day they'll have to let me go
I'll get a blade that's razor sharp, I hope you're taking note
Because I'll see you in the street one day and cut your fuckin throat

Oct. 1996 HMP Glenochil, Tullibody, Clacks, FK10 3AD, Scotland

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Report - HMP Send: prison-death demonstration held on 20 September 2007

As originally report on NMP Website in September 2007

Pauline Campbell writes:

Prison-death demonstration - Thursday 20 September 2007 to protest against the tragic death of the young mother Lisa Doe, aged 25 who died on 11 September 2007 while in the care of HMP Send, Surrey

  1. The protest on 20 September 2007 was the 26th demonstration to be held since protests began in April 2004.
  2. Lisa Doe is the seventh woman to die in prison so far this year.
  3. The appalling death toll: 39 women prisoners * (including Lisa Doe) have died since Sarah Campbell's death in 2003. Lessons are not being learned.
( * 12 women died after Sarah Campbell in 2003; 13 died in 2004; 4 died in 2005; 3 died in 2006; 7 deaths so far this year = 39)

[Figures refer to apparently self-inflicted deaths; England and Wales]


A small group of protesters held a peaceful 3-hour demonstration outside HMP Send and, for part of the afternoon, were joined by two relatives of Ms Lisa Doe, who laid flowers in memory of their loved one.

At 2 pm, Mr Andy Peacock, Head of Reducing Reoffending (Duty Governor for the day) emerged from the jail, and spoke to protesters, but said he was unable to comment on Ms Doe's death.

At 3.45 pm, a Serco prison van (BW04 VZH) was stopped as it attempted to enter the jail. The driver was informed that protesters considered the jail to be unsafe, in view of the recent death, and he was asked to take the women to a place of safety.

Surrey Police were summoned to the prison. Officers 1905 and 2751 attended; sergeant 1905 indicated that Section 14, Public Order Act 1986, would be invoked if the prisoner transport van was not allowed to proceed into the jail. The Serco vehicle was eventually allowed to enter the prison, and no arrests were made.

A number of visitors to the jail spoke to protesters, and expressed concern about the physical and mental wellbeing of their loved ones held in HMP Send.

The Conservative MP for Mole Valley, Sir Paul Beresford, was invited to attend the demonstration, but did not respond to the invitation.

The protest was attended by Sky Television; local reporters and photographers, and was also covered by local radio.

At the end of the afternoon, protesters left bouquets of flowers and a memorial placard at the prison entrance, in memory of Ms Doe.


"Another woman has died, and another family is left to grieve."

"This latest death at HMP Send brings into sharp focus the prison's custodial care record. Two young mothers have lost their lives at Send Prison this year: Emma Kelly on 19 April 2007, and Lisa Doe on 11 September 2007. It is particularly worrying that both women were on 'suicide watch' when they died."

"Courts must act responsibly and stop sending women, many with psychiatric and drug-dependency problems, to the punitive regime of a prison, when they are in need of treatment and care. Unless and until this inhuman practice stops, more families will have to deal with the tremendous pain and anger resulting from the death of their loved ones."

Friday, 26 November 2010

John Bowden - Return to Resistance

Reposted from the No More Prison Website

In a time when prison are so overcrowded why don't prisoners rise up and challenge the treatment and conditions imposed on them? This article, written by John Bowden a prisoner who has been involved in prison struggle, gives his insight.

Return to Resistance

What has become of prison revolts in the British prison system? Where now are the open expressions of collective anger and solidarity that fueled the uprisings and jail riots of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s and created the iconic images of Hull 1976 and Strangeways 1990? What happened to the spirit of revolt that used to periodically shake the British long-term prison system and engender a philosophy of prisoner empowerment and solidarity, a philosophy that situated the struggle of prisoners at the very forefront of the universal struggle for human rights and even social revolution?

Has the British prison system now become so responsive to and accommodating of the rights of prisoners that revolt and protest has been rendered unnecessary and redundant? I think not. In fact British jails are now more chronically overcrowded than ever before and inmates virtually warehoused in conditions and under regimes probably worst than they were twenty years ago. The despair and misery created by such conditions is reflected in rates of self-harm and suicide that are inexorably growing, along with the length of sentences now dished out. And like never before the treatment of prisoners is increasingly influenced by a political climate and manipulated public mood supportive of even greater repression and revenge. Yet nowhere, apparently, is there the spirit of solidarity and organised resistance amongst prisoners that was so evident twenty years ago, no-where the readiness to fight back and literally raise the roof in protest. Instead of defiance there seems now only passive acquiescence and an acceptance of conditions and forms of treatment that previously would have mobilized disobedience and revolt.

Silence in the face of intolerable oppression is a disturbing phenomenon; in conditions of extreme cruelty the will to resist is inherently human and wholly characteristic of a healthy and intact human spirit possessing an integrity unique to our species.

Why then has the militancy that seemed to characterize the behavior of long-term prisoners, especially, towards the prison system been replaced by conformity and submission?

Organizationally, the prison system in terms of methods of control, prison architecture and design, etc, has developed significantly since the last major prison uprising at Strangeways in 1990. Before the Strangeways revolt the physical space of most large prisons was more or less controlled by the prisoners themselves and scrutiny and close supervision of that space by the jailers was difficult and haphazard. Apart from punishment/segregat ion units, most prisoners were housed in large wings where they were allowed to circulate freely and create a certain degree of autonomy of physical space; complete oversight and surveillance was impossible and control often tenuous, and where incidents of protest were sparked off they tended to spread without containment, developing a momentum that reached into most areas of the prison. Large group solidarity was a common feature of life in the long-term prisons and was reflected in the balance of institutional power which dictated that the co-operation and good will of prisoners was a vital and necessary prerequisite of relative control.

Changing the physical architecture of prisons was to become a key component in the state's strategy of eradicating large scale protest and seizing back control of physical space. The new-generation of prison architecture and the extensive re-design of prison space started in the early 1990s purpose-built small group control into wing lay-outs and won back completely the control of space from prisoners.

In Scotland where bloody revolts had convulsed the prison system during the 1970s and 1980s a massive building programme transformed the old open-plan halls and galleries into new “super wings”, enormous structures where space is divided and sub-divided into small self-contained units holding under 50 prisoners, all closely monitored and observed in small manageable groups. This separation and concentration of prisoners into small groups under almost microscopic surveillance effectively prevents and undermines the potential for large-scale disturbances by quickly identifying and weeding out “ringleaders” and containing and isolating conflict when it occurs. By transforming the physical space and design of jails institutional power has shifted back in favour of guards and removed the spectre of mass prison uprisings.

In and of itself building methods of control into the physical fabric of prisons does not eradicate completely the possibility and existence off rebellion, and when trying to understand the reasons for such a radical downturn in the prison struggle the wider social and cultural context is equally relevant.

The term “millennium prisoner” is now often used as a derogatory label by prisoners themselves for the current generation of prisoners who seem on the whole to have reconciled themselves with the institutional interests of the prison system and possess absolutely no memory of a time when prisoner culture was imbued with a spirit and attitude of resistance. This is not just a generational phenomenon but a social and political one also and reflects a fundamental change in the nature of the wider working class community from which most prisoners are drawn. On the whole the prisoners who revolted and fought the system during the most turbulent decades of prison protest, the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, were products of close knit industrial working class communities with strong traditions of trade union organization and militancy; solidarity and mutual support were the lifeblood of these communities and informed the instincts of even those on the wrong side of the law. The generation of prisoners who riot and fought at Pankhurst in 1969, Hull in 1976 and Strangeways in 1990 were from communities still nourished by class consciousness and a “them and us” attitude, as well as an understanding that sticking together and showing solidarity was the most effective way of securing collective benefits and rights.

During the 1980s and 1990s the Thatcherite onslaught tore the heart and soul out of working class communities and transformed them into wastelands of depression, hopelessness and defeat, and bred a generation of young people saturated with cynicism, alienation and absolutely no memory of a time when principles like solidarity, community and mutual support defined working class identity. Even the more proletariat forms of property-related crime, which in a way represented a sort of elemental form of class warfare, gave way to a more viciously entrepreneurial drug crime based on crude capitalist principles and a contempt for poor communities and those who inhabit them. Drug dealing is a uniquely capitalist from of crime involving massive profit for the few and immense misery for the many, and is informed by a rejection of the sort of values or codes of the old criminal fraternity – never grass, resist authority and never hurt “one's own”. Modern drug dealers in attitude and mentality are the absolute antithesis of what were working class villains and their way or strategy of doing prison time is also radically different; collusion and co-operation with prison regimes has replaced defiance and resistance, and the fighting spirit that sometimes gave rise to a noble vision of positive change and reform; from the flames of revolts like Strangeways came manifestos of radical reform and an understanding and imperative that prisoners are as deserving of full human rights as any other human being. Today those sort of noble aspirations seem to have given way to a mood of defeat and conformity.

As microcosms of society prisons, in an often brutally exaggerated way, reflect the social condition and reality of life of the poor generally, and also the level of political activity and struggle of that group. When the poor are subdued and disorganized and kept under the heel so are those in prison; the reproduction of a junkie culture amongst prisoners accurately reflects what has taken hold in most poor and working class communities and districts on the outside.

What then are the chances of defiance and militancy re-emerging amongst large groups of prisoners and re-defining their current relationship with prison authority? The inexorable drive towards greater incarceration and the construction of virtual penal cities in the form of massive “Titan jails”, will eventually result in whole chunks of the poor and disadvantaged population being walled into factories of repression; sooner or later that repression, no matter how sophisticated and well-organised, will meet with resistance. There has always been a cyclical quality about protest, revolt and resistance, both in prison or outside in the wider world, and periods of quiescence and absolute social control are always fragile and essentially dependent on people co-operating in their own subjugation as opposed to control being imposed by force and coercion alone. As the South African Black Consciousness activist Steve Biko once said, “The greatest weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the minds of the oppressed themselves”. Those who administer the prison system equate a good prison with a well-controlled prison; the prime function of prison is to imprison efficiently and maintain absolute control over the imprisoned. Issues of human rights and respecting the inherent human dignity of the prisoner do not register in the mentality of the penal operator and ground has never been conceded on these issues unless prisoners themselves have forced them onto the agenda.

There is a direct relationship between the limited liberalization of prison regimes in the British long-term jails during the 1970s and 1980s and the protests and demonstrations of that period that forced the system to concede ground. No significant reform of the prison system has ever been achieved by anyone other than prisoners themselves, usually as a result of collective direct action, and the progressive erosion of those reforms over the last 20 years is as a direct result and consequence of the change in prisoner culture and the diminution of collective struggle amongst prisoners. Unless the spirit of struggle is re-discovered, therefore, nothing will prevent a nightmarish vision of the prison world coming to pass; the mass imprisonment of social problem and poor people in huge privately-controlle d jails where human rights are abandoned completely in the interests of profit and the total and absolute control over the imprisoned. It's maybe in all our interests ultimately that we see the return of a militant and unmanageable prison population.

John Bowden
HM Prison Glenochil
King O'Muir Road
FK10 3AD

Friday, 19 November 2010

Loving the Unloved - some reflections on the lives and struggles of prisoner's families.

This was orginally published on the No More Prison Website

By Beth - the partner of a prisoner reflects of the harsh reality of prisons on partners and loved ones as well as prisoners

Before prisons became places where people were isolated from society they were semi-open, chaotic environments where whole families lived within the walls of the jail and people came and went selling goods, alcohol and sex. The song "Here we go round the mulberry bush" originates in Wakefield prison where the children use to dance around the mulberry bush which still stands there.
Pain Inside and Outside

The reforms of the nineteenth century partly came about because of concern about the supposed immorality of these environments, the sex and drunkenness, the corruption and mess in which people were seen to be living. So it was deemed that in prisons needed to be orderly places where people contemplated the error of their ways and received correction without the distractions of sex, family, relationships, drink, gambling and so on. Although rules around silence were eventually ended in the early twentieth century, much of the nineteenth century ethos of separation and moral living still prevail. Today in prisons the language used to justify such restrictions and deprivations may have changed to talk of security, risk, safety, rehabilitation and so on but the basic principle that removing wrong-doers from society and separating them from their loved ones is the right way to deal with crime remains in place and almost universally unchallenged.

The current reformist attitude towards the separation of prisoners from their loved ones and the treatment of prisoner's families mostly focuses upon the difficulties families face in visiting prisons and the hardships of travelling long distances and the lack of provision for children and so on. In six years of contact with organisations that support prisoners' families I have yet to hear any direct challenge to the monumental failure of this policy of separating and caging human beings. It is also extremely rare for anyone connected with reform to acknowledge that one of the main reasons why this situation is such a failure and causes more harm than good is because people are systematically brutalised and humiliated in the name of public protection. Reformists are so busy trying to get on the right side of the almighty prison service in order to extract some crumbs from the table to have a family visit or buy some toys that they fail to truly confront the prison service about the totally unacceptable levels of cruelty that thousands of people are subjected to because the love someone who they have caged.
Prisoners Families are powerless

Lets be completely clear about this, most prisoners' families have very little power, status, money or support. The imprisonment of a loved one is not something that people tend to protest about, except in some cases of miscarriages of justice, because the simple truth of the matter is that if you had any power before your were in that situation, it is certainly almost none existent once you are. You effectively have no rights to privacy in your relationship with your caged family member and getting information, support and your voice heard becomes almost impossible because you are forever worrying that if you object or make too much of a fuss it will simply mean that you don't get a visit or you will be targeted or your loved one will be punished in some way. You become grateful for any crumbs on offer and relieved when at the new prison the screws are reasonably pleasant, rather than actively hostile.

Prison is destructive not reformative

How come reformists so rarely acknowledge that prison is mostly about pain and punishment and it brutalises everyone connected with it. I really don't accept the view that prison staff simply need to be more aware of our problems and the role we play in rehabilitation. Prison has nothing to do with rehabilitation. If it happens at all it happens despite what is being done to prisoners not because of it. If we are the single biggest factor in determining re-offending rates then how come we are treated, for the most part, like dirt? I think that it is mostly because the Criminal Justice System is not primarily concerned with what actually helps people to change and lead a more fulfilling and constructive life. If it was it would have acknowledged a long time ago that prison, by and large harms us all. It fails monumentally at the one thing it is supposedly there to do, "protect the public". Huge warehouses of suffering and humiliation protect no one.

One of the worst aspects of being the partner of a prisoner is reading about or hearing people talk about aspects of prison life that are the opposite of the true situation. One example of this is the recent nonsense in the tabloid press about prisoners being paid to play scrabble. We talked about this on the Prison Chat UK site and people feel crazy with hurt when they read stuff like that because the truth is that thousands of us are making big sacrifices to send money to our loved ones so that they can have some basic comforts or buy food to compensate for the rubbish so many of them are expected to eat in jail.

Many of us face stigma and prejudice from family, friends and co-workers. People in this situation frequently find that they are socially isolated and unable to share their experiences with people close to them. Even when we can share with others it is often difficult to convey even a small part of the misery of this experience. Eventually you find yourself protecting other people from the truth because it is impossible to tell others how bad this system is. We become like exiles, people who live in this society but do not belong here, who do not belong anywhere accept maybe with each another.

I think the greatest lie about the prison system is that its function is to anything but harm people. Even liberal reformists, like Ramsbottom, speak of prison BEING the punishment rather being punished in prison. The punishment is the removal of the person from society and from those who that person loves. In what way can that form of torture benefit anyone? It is torture, not only for the prisoner but for their children and other family members. After years of no privacy you begin to realse that THIS is what hurts most and as a family member you are doing the same sentence. You do it in the community, alongside other people who have no idea what that experience is like.

I have lost count of the number of times people have asked me about conjugal visits and whether we will be entitled to them if we marry or later in the sentence and it is extremely difficult to keep explaining to people that within prison itself there are no official periods of privacy ever at any stage under any circumstances.

Likewise I have lost count of the number of times I have had to explain that complaining about harassment from prison staff on visits is impossible because you are powerless to stop them abusing you. I call it the "but surely......" response, as in "But surely there is someone you could complain to about this" and I say "This is not like taking something back to a shop. This is a dictatorship" But for those who live in a supposedly liberal democracy these things are very hard to understand.
My belief is that the aspect of prisoners families that clashes most with the Prison Service and the society it supposedly serves is the fact that we love and care for people who are generally deemed to be unlovable and not worthy of respect.

By "love" I am not talking here about romance, although that may be part of our relationships. I am talking about spending years and years telling your caged relative that you see them as a human being worthy of love, compassion and understanding. I am talking about love as an active agent of change in which there is challenge and questioning as well as acceptance and trust. What prison does is diminish and humiliate people. My own experience has led me to question that response to law-breaking because from everything I have seen and read I know that does not work and if we are to find alternatives then we need to listen to those who are already actively involved in that alternative response to people this society locks up.
The other day we were talking on the Prison Chat site about what we loved about our partner, son, brother, father etc in jail and there was this great outpouring of stories about the strength, gentleness, wisdom and kindness of these men we are close to and it was incredibly moving to hear about these relationships that exist despite the walls and wire. It saddened me too because we are all diminished when a society divides people in to good and bad and does not examine its attitudes and the humanity it inflicts on those who have often suffered more deprivation and cruelty than most.

There is something particularly poignant about the end of a visit. You are standing there, hugging your loved one and you are both hoping that this hug will stay with the other until the next time and you look across the room and everyone is holding one another and the screws are trying to hurry you up and you think "This is madness".


Click here to visit Prison Chat UK

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Demo protesting the death of Karen Ann Fletcher in Holloway Prison

This was originally published on No more Prison's website in 2005.


Report on Prison death demonstration held on Wednesday 09.11.05 to protest against the death of Karen Ann Fletcher, 30, who died on 28.10.05

By Pauline Campbell

  • 16th demonstration since protests began in April 2004;
  • two-hour demonstration was attended by 25 protesters (including two ex-prisoners).
  • Prison van halted at 2.55 pm, as it attempted to take prisoners into the jail.
  • While the van was stopped, Duty Governor Mr McCaighy, and his colleague Mr Ryan, came out of the prison, and requested that the vehicle be allowed to enter the jail.
  • Request refused on the grounds that it was unsafe to allow prisoners to be taken into Holloway, following the recent death.
  • Police were called, and approx 15 officers attended the incident.
  • 3.15 pm: I was arrested (my 10th arrest since last year) for an "alleged obstruction of the highway", and taken to Islington Police Station.
  • Handcuffs were not used at this arrest.
  • After two and a half hours, I was released without charge. Custody Sgt White and his Inspector made the decision that it was "not in the public interest to continue with a prosecution".
  • I was held in the custody suite but not, on this occasion, locked in a police cell.

"It is believed that Karen Fletcher was recently transferred to Holloway from Styal Prison, Cheshire. Her death, the fourth at HMP Holloway since April 2004, again raises questions about the legal duty of care owed to prisoners. In addition, a Holloway inmate remains on a life support machine, after being cut down from a makeshift noose at the jail in May 2004. The Chief Inspector of Prisons' report, published earlier this year, highlighted problems of dirt and vermin at HMP Holloway."
  • Demonstration was attended by local photographers and reporters.
  • Prison Governor did not respond to a note sent into the prison.
Pauline Campbell

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Further failure documented - the only answer for Styal Prison is closure

This was published on the No More Prison Website in 2006

The publication this week of the Inspectorate of Prisons report on Styal Prison confirms that it is still a desperate and failing institution. It contains many recommendations but fails to identify the one simple solution - close Styal Prison.

The reality of Styal - humiliation, abuse, pain and lack of care

Key findings of the inspection team include:
  • The use of violent force by Prison Officers on prisoners had doubled in the last two years
  • An increase in prisoners being assulted and in levels of bullying
  • Serious self harming is "prolific" and is responded to by prison staff using force and confinement in punishment cells.
  • Women who self harmed were being routinely stripped as punishment.
  • The use of "unfurnished" cells has increased by 250% in two years
  • No support was given to many self harming women
  • The mother and baby unit failed to meet child protection standards
  • The Prison is not reviewing "near-death" incidents to learn lessons
  • The Food in the prison remains very bad and unhealthy in content and in preparation.
  • Many of the toilets were unscreened
  • All day child visits had been stopped
  • Many new prisoners were not being issued with even a single bra.
  • The "Segregation unit" had been renamed the "Care, support and reintegration unit"

Who we lock up - the powerless and abused

The report also included details of the women that we lock up in Styal:

  • The majority of women caged have been victims of rape or other serious assults
  • There are high levels of mental illness and acute mental distress
  • 80% had serious and longstanding substance misuse problems
  • 60% are mothers
  • The vast majority are "low risk" and with no histories of violence
Lies exposed

The Report challenges the Prison's own account of the regime experienced by women effectively accusing the Governor and his staff of lying about the time women spend out of the cells. They point out that despite the Prison claiming women are allowed out of their cells for 11 hours a day the reality is that the most vulnerable are locked up for 19 hours or more a day. Such evidence suggests the reality of Styal is likely to be far more painful, brutal and abusive than is claimed by the Governor.

Recommendations - keep trying!!
Despite all the good work done by the Inspectorate in exposing some of the reality of Britain's prisons they tend to disappoint when it comes to recommendations of what is to be done. The Inspectorate never forget that there belief in Prison and the suggested "improvements" they ask for reflect this belief. They make hundreds of recommendations when only one was really necessary.

Styal has failed it should be closed.

To maintain this ludicrous perspective that Styal could be a "healthy place" requires great naivety and many of the recommendations reflect this. On race relations after failing to make a recommendation in the last report they this time boldly request that:

Managers should discuss with the prisoner race relations committee the reasons that black and minority ethnic women prisoners have a different perception of their treatment than white women prisoners, and aim to address those differences.
Was it too much for them to consider the reason was racism?

Styal must close

The report fails to mention the Government's plans to double the size of Styal increasing dramatically the abuse, hard and pain this evil place inflicts on powerless and abused women. No More Prison is committed to resisting this expansion and instead calling for the immediate closure of Styal.

Styal has no future. It is unreformable. It is a place of abuse, pain and death. Close it now


Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Remember Caroline Powell

This report was originally published on the No More Prison Website in January 2007

Mother-of-five, Caroline Powell, died on 5 January 2007 while on remand at Eastwood Park Prison, Gloucestershire. In response Pauline Campbell held a demonstration on Wednesday 24 January 2007 outside the prison. It was the 20th such demo organised by Pauline following a death.

During the demo Pauline Campbell was arrested (Its her 14th arrest on prison death demos), and charged (for the fourth time)

Pauline Reports:

Following the tragic death of Caroline Powell on 5 January 2007, a demonstration was held outside the prison on the afternoon of Wednesday 24 January 2007. Around 10-15 people attended the protest, including reporters and photographers. Protesters had travelled from London, Shropshire, and Cheshire, to protest against the death of this vulnerable young woman, aged 26, who died in the 'care' of Her Majesty's Prison Eastwood Park. Caroline leaves behind five motherless children, the youngest aged 18 months. Ms Powell was on remand, and legally innocent, when she died.

At 2.55 pm, Reliance prison van FX04 BUP, was stopped as it attempted to take prisoners into the jail. The driver was informed that (a) protesters regarded the jail as unsafe in view of the recent death; (b) the vehicle would not be allowed into the prison; and (c) he should take the women to a place of safety. Officers from Avon & Somerset Constabulary were called to the prison. Six officers arrived, and one began filming the demonstration. The sergeant read aloud a printed notice, then handed the copy to me. Dated 24.01.07, it reads: "To whom it may concern: I am the senior police officer here. I believe that you are committing, have committed, or intend to commit an offence of trespassing with the common purpose of deterring, obstructing or disrupting lawful activity and I require you to leave immediately. Failure to obey my direction may render you liable to arrest. If you return to the land as a trespasser within 3 months you will also commit an offence for which you may be arrested. Sergeant 1958 Ogborne." At 4.20 pm I was arrested for "aggravated trespass and obstruction of the highway", and taken to Staple Hill Police Station, South Gloucestershire. Handcuffs were not used.

We arrived at the police station at 5 pm; detention was authorised at 5.30 pm.

Photographs, fingerprints, and DNA were taken. I objected (as I have done on a previous occasion) to mouth swabs being taken by a police officer, and expressed the view that taking body samples from any orifice should be done by a nurse or doctor, not a police officer. I refused to sign the form which acknowledged that my prints had been taken and that the officer had informed me the prints would be kept on file for I.D. and crime investigation purposes. It was explained to me that it was within my rights not to sign.

I was locked in a cell; allowed to contact the duty solicitor while detained; then subsequently charged ("aggravated trespass - fail to leave land"). My reply to the charge, logged in police records, was: "Caroline Powell died on 5 January 2007 at Eastwood Park Prison; she has left behind five motherless children, and that explains the demonstration and my arrest today." Reporters and photographers from local newspapers attended the protest, which was also covered by local radio. BBC Points West attended the demonstration, and a news report was included on regional television at 6.30 pm. The news item, broadcast into about five counties, included footage showing the arrest. I have been granted unconditional bail to appear in North Avon Magistrates' Court, Kennedy Way, Yate, Bristol, BS27 4PY, on Thursday 1 February 2007 at 9.45 a.m. At 7.45 pm, I was released from custody. A police car returned me to Falfield, to enable me to collect my car.

Additional information

(1) Caroline Powell's grieving family are receiving support and advice from INQUEST, London: Caroline's father asked to be put in touch with me, and we spoke on the telephone on 23 January 2007, the day before the demonstration. He expressed wholehearted support for the protest, and said he was "100% behind the demonstration". Family members are grieving deeply, and preparing for the funeral, and therefore were unable to join us outside the prison.

(2) An invitation was sent to Steve Webb, MP (Lib Dem), inviting him to attend the demonstration. In his e-mail reply to me, dated 22.01.07, he said: "Thank you for letting me know of your forthcoming demonstration. I will be at Westminster on Wednesday and will be unable to attend, but I am grateful to you for letting me know of the demonstration and certainly agree that the issue which you are highlighting is an important one."

(3) On the afternoon of the demonstration, a letter was sent into the prison (via a visitor), addressed to Governor Tim Beeston, asking if he would meet protesters at the prison gates. The letter was returned to me, unopened, at the end of visiting. The prison had apparently refused to accept the letter as it did not quote the prison's full postal address.


"The deaths of two women prisoners this month (Caroline Powell at Eastwood Park Prison, and Lucy Wood at HMP Peterborough on 15.01.07) again bring into sharp focus the fatal consequences of sending vulnerable women to prisons that cannot meet their human needs.

"Thirty-four women have now died in the 'care' of women's jails since my daughter died in 2003. All were owed a legal duty of care. Courts must stop sending women to their deaths.

"Caroline Powell was on remand at Eastwood Park Prison and was legally innocent when she died. Her father told me it was her first time in jail. I am still struggling to understand what useful purpose is served by herding so many vulnerable women into institutions that are not equipped to deal with their complex needs. The harsh and punitive treatment of women offenders is a disgrace."

(Figures refer to self-inflicted deaths; England and Wales)


Six print size colour photos are available
(No's 1, 2 and 3: taken before the arrest; No. 4: the arrest; No's 5 and 6: immediately following the arrest)

Freelance photographer: Guy Smallman
Tel 07956 429059



Photos can be used for free by progressive and campaigning groups (Guy Smallman must be notified of their use).

Local papers (usually free) must notify Guy Smallman of use.

National papers pay going rate and notify Guy Smallman of use.


Monday, 9 August 2010

Anti Social Behaviour Orders

This was originally published on No More Prison's Website in 2005

What is an ASBO?

Anti-Social Behaviour Orders were introduced by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and came into force on 1 April 1999. ASBO's ban individuals from entering certain areas or carrying out specific acts for a minimum period of two years. The acts are not normally acts that are otherwise illegal or criminal. However once an ASBO has been served these acts become criminal offences (only for the person the ASBO was served) that can attract up to 5 years imprisonment.

An application for an ASBO can be made to a magistrate by police forces, local authorities, housing action trusts and registered social landlords and imposed on the individual deemed guilty of "anti-social behaviour". The Government defines this as
behaviour which causes or is likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to one or more people who are not in the same household as the perpetrator
ASBOs also take the form of interim orders (made by the magistrates' court or the county court ahead of a full hearing), county court orders (obtained when other proceedings against an individual are underway such as possession of tenancy) and "orders made on conviction in criminal proceedings" (where the criminal courts can serve an order on an individual convicted of a criminal offence).

An ASBO is a civil order, this means that the burden of proof is lower than in criminal cases, and hearsay evidence is admissible. This lower rate of proof has made application very difficult to resist. The courts refuse less than 1 in 60 applications. If breached, the individual has committed a criminal offence which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

The Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill, currently before Parliament, is proposing to remove the anonymity of children involved in criminal proceedings for breaching the terms of their ASBO to facilitate their "naming and shaming". In January 2005 the Joint Committee on Human Rights expressed concern at clauses 127 and 128.

Some examples of the use of ASBO's
  • In October 2004 a profoundly deaf girl was served an ASBO for spitting in public. She was subsequently imprisoned.
  • In July 2003 an 87 year old was served an order which, among other things, banned him from being sarcastic to his neighbours.
  • Manchester - female prostitute banned from carrying condoms in an area which included her drug clinic which, as part of its harm reduction work, provides clients with free condoms.
  • Leonard Hockey, a homeless man issued with an ASBO banning him from begging. He was later breached and imprisoned. He died in prison.
  • A 74 year old woman is facing prison if she insults her neighbours or makes any form of complaint to public bodies.
  • In October 2004, two brothers aged 10 and 11 were among other things banned from congregating in a group of more than two people or entering any domestic or commercial property without the prior consent of the owner.
  • Birmingham, a 26 homeless man given an ASBO banning begging. He continued begging and got a two year sentence. On his release he started begging again and was sentenced to a further 3 year prison. In total to date he has been sentenced to 5 years imprisonment for an offence that is not in itself imprisonable.
  • A 17-year-old sentenced to four months' youth detention after he broke his order in a 3am fracas with police at his home. However, his lawyer revealed that in the previous 14 months he had been charged with an offence on 19 separate occasions and all of which had resulted in his favour. His lawyer claimed this to be "a pretty outrageous statistic" and that "he's been targeted and I am quite sure the conduct of the police was entirely unacceptable"
  • A 47 year old man was banned from buying or consuming any alcohol. He breached it and was imprisoned.
  • A 13 year old boy has been banned from using the word "grass" anywhere in England and Wales.
  • A 16 year old boy ordered, at the threat of up to 5 years imprisonment, not to behave in an anti social manner at school. His crime, disrupting a science class.
  • Manchester - 18 year old man banned from congregating with three or more other "youths" arrested for attending a successful youth club that was running a session on "how to deal with anti-social behaviour"
  • In August 2004 a homeless alcoholic was banned from consuming alcohol in a public place and entering licenced premises. He breached this order within two weeks.
  • Manchester City Council obtained an ASBO against mobile soup vans providing assistance to homeless people in the city centre.
  • A 20 year old long term prisoner was on the day before his release served an ASBO banning him from entering the estate he lived on with his Grandmother. He had been her carer since he was 12 years old.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

ASBO Concern

This was orginally puiblished on the No More Prison Website in 2005

Asbo Concern, a new campaigning organisation, is to be launched next month. Coordinator Matt Foot, a criminal defence solicitor, explains: "The government is irresponsible promoting Asbos - which often criminalise people for behaviour that is not criminal - when there is no evidence that they work. We have serious concerns about the way they are used and want to organise the broadest possible coalition to put pressure on the government for a full review."

The New Group's Launch meeting takes place at 7.00pm on Thursday 7th April at Friends Meeting House opposite Euston Station.


We are an alliance of organisations and individuals who wish to campaign about serious concerns with the use of ASBOs.


1. Anti-social behaviour can cause distress and misery but the response to it must be appropriate, just, proportionate, positive and effective.

2. Asbos are a punitive measure that can criminalise people for behaviour that is not criminal, and often imposed only on the basis of hearsay evidence.

3. They do nothing to deal with the causes of anti-social behaviour and can distort the work that is being done to build stronger communities.

4. The government is increasing the use of Asbos, despite the fact that there is no evidence that they work. Home Office figures show that at least one third of Asbos are breached.

5. Asbos can result in eviction of whole families and are increasing the prison population, with people being jailed for breaches of Asbos even for offences that would not otherwise be imprisonable. Around 10 young people a week are imprisoned this way.

6. We want properly funded community and youth services and support for people with mental health, drug and alcohol or other social problems to build an inclusive society.


1. To bring together those concerned about the way asbos are used - charities, professionals, trade unions, community groups, young people and others - in a joint campaign.

2. To publicly highlight the problems with asbos and the need for alternative ways of tackling anti-social behaviour that does not criminalise people for actions that are not criminal.

3. To counteract the scapegoating and stigmatising of children and young people and vulnerable groups and campaign for properly funded youth services and support for those who need it.

4. To campaign for a full public government review of asbos and the way they are used.



NAPO, CYWU, Inquest, British Association of Social Workers, Childrens Rights Alliance, Action on Rights for Children, Fair Play for Children, Brent Youth Company, Holborn GMB, Legal Action for Women, International Prostitutes Collective, The Green Party, Respect,,  Red Pepper, Scottish Prostitutes Education Project.


Janet Batsleer, Louise Christian, Bernard Davies, Pam Eland, Matt Foot, Helen Gregory, Gavin Shelton, Iain Taylor, Elizabeth Harding, Liz Richmond, Rev Ray Gaston, Jen Malcolm, Tim Farrell, Dave Edwards, Sue Spilling, Dr Jane Ferrie, Adah Kay, Mike MacNair, Caroline Lucas MEP, Manuela Sykes, Richard Hoyle, Martina Habeck, Marie Xenophontos, Jon Davis, Hilary Wainwright.

External Links