Saturday, 5 June 2010

Prison Abolition Has New Voice

This report, of the founding of No More Prison, was published on its website in 2004

Prison Abolition Has New Voice

Over sixty people from across Britain joined together in London on Saturday, 28th January to establish a new, forceful organisation, No More Prison, determined to fight for the end of prisons. At the Prison Abolition Seminar held in Conway Hall, former prisoners, activists, health and prison workers and academics exchanged ideas and strategies to stop prison building, end child imprisonment and develop alternatives to punishment that better meet the needs of victims and lawbreakers. Driven by a populist criminal justice policy fuelled by screaming red top headlines Britain locks up more people than any of country in Western Europe, currently standing at over 88,000 children, women and men.
Opening the seminar, Professor Joe Sim argued the need for a new abolitionist movement in Britain which distinguished itself from the prison reform group movements that have become entangled with New Labour's law and order project. Drawing upon Norwegian abolitionist Thomas Mathiesen, Professor Sim illustrated how such groups have been "defined in" as acceptable commentators on prison, while other, more challenging groups remain "defined out" and consequently silenced.

Both the State and Prison reformers are focusing on fixing rather than reinventing the penal system. He stressed how the rebranding of jails as places of reform and progress shrouded the reality that prisons remain instruments of pain delivery, and that the collateral damage to prisoners' families is consistently ignored.

He called upon the seminar to challenge the notion of New Labour's "what works" policy and the discourse of the "working prison" and to ask for debates about what doesn't work, why prisoners' rights and conditions continue to be eroded and why progressive regimes such as those at the Special Unit at HMP Barlinnie in Glasgow and Blantyre House in Kent have either been systematically dismantled or consistently attacked.

In the rich and vibrant discussion that followed, John Moore facilitated moves towards establishing a new abolitionist movement in Britain, in which No More Prison planned for a innovative and productive strategy to end the prison estate. The group called for a moratorium on prison building; a redirection the prison budget; a dismantling of the negative and punitive prison officer culture, and a widening of definitions of social harm to encompass white collar crime, deaths at work, fraud amongst others.

No More Prison will be an activist organisation open to all who oppose mass incarceration. It was agreed that it was crucial that group remained as broad based as possible and maximized the participation of current and former prisoners.

If you want to be involved in setting up the new organisation or want to become a founder member let us know

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