Britain’s brutal prison system

In July 2018 we reported on the trial of five former prisoners who were charged with ‘prison mutiny’ at Lewes prison in Sussex.[1] A year later, none of the brutalising conditions which caused the prisoners to protest have improved. Nicki Jameson reports.

In March 2019 the Chief Inspector of Prisons published a damning report of an unannounced in­spection in January. The report describes conditions in the prison as ‘deeply troubling and indicative of systemic failure’. The prisons inspectorate uses four key indicators for what it describes as the ‘healthy prison’ test; in three of these (Respect, Purposeful Activity and Rehabilitation) Lewes had declined, while in the fourth (Safety) it remained the same. The decline in ‘Purposeful Activity’ was particularly acute, with ‘over 40% of prisoners still locked up during the working day’.

 

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Letter: prison abolition requires us to struggle against the capitalist state

RCG protest outside HMP Pentonville

Prisons exist essentially as instruments and weapons of social control and repression, and in class-divided capitalist societies the total institution of prison is utilised almost exclusively to discipline and punish the poorest and most marginalised and render them absolutely obedient to the power and authority of the dominant social/economic class. The modern prison or penitentiary system that originated in the 19th century was created essentially to discipline and condition the rebellious poor into absolute conformity to the factory system; in the urban working class areas of Victorian Britain factories and prisons were the most visibly dominant institutions and the physical life choices confronting the poor.

 

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Inside news - FRFI 270 June/July 2019

Disastrous prison privatisation ends

The government has announced that HMP Birmingham (also known as Winson Green) will not be returned to private contractor G4S, and will continue to be run by the state.

The prison was put out to tender in 2009 by the Labour government, which – like its Tory predecessors – was ideologically wedded to privatising the punishment machinery. Although, by the time Birmingham was handed to G4S in 2011, there were 13 privately built and run prisons in operation, it was the first state prison to be moved into the private sector.

Already a brutal hate factory with many years of brutalising prisoners behind it, G4S’s attempts to run the prison were spectacularly unsuccessful by anyone’s standards. The years during which it was in charge saw repeated riots, violence and deaths, both self-inflicted and due to accidental drug overdose. Meanwhile, the prison fabric literally fell to pieces, to the extent that in December 2018 the House of Commons Justice Committee grilled G4S custodial and detention services director Jerry Petherick over the complete failure of G4S to deal with the appalling conditions in the prison’s 19th century wings, where every single window was broken.

Same in probation...

In 2014, then Justice Minister Chris Grayling, who is widely known even among his Tory colleagues for being utterly clueless (who else would ban books and cigarettes in prison, and give ferry contracts to companies with no ships?) had tendered out probation services responsible for monitoring everyone under community supervision orders and all but the highest risk released prisoners. The scheme, which involved the creation of regional Community Rehabilitation Companies, was utterly chaotic, and once again the state has no choice but to renationalise it.

State-run prisons also uninhabitable

On 10 May a Dutch court halted a prisoner’s extradition to Britain on the grounds that conditions in the prison he was likely to be moved to breached human rights minimum standards. As we have previously reported, Liverpool has been labelled ‘Britain’s worst prison’, with many cells unfit for habitation, hundreds of unrepaired broken win-dows, filthy toilets, infestations of cockroaches, broken furniture, graffiti, damp and dirt, alongside negligent treatment of prisoners with complex medical and mental health needs. The court cited Bedford and Birmingham prisons, alongside Liverpool as posing a ‘real risk of inhuman or degrading treatment’.

 

Free Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning!

Protest in Parliament Square, London, in April in defence of Julian Assange

On 12 April 2019 Julian Assange was seized by British police and forcibly removed from the Ecuadorian embassy where he had sought sanctuary seven years earlier. He is currently being held in Belmarsh high security prison in south east London, having been sentenced to a 50-week prison term for skipping bail in 2012. If this were the only reason for his imprisonment, he would be freed after 25 weeks in custody. However, as Assange and his supporters have always maintained would happen, he is now having to fight a legal battle against extradition to the US, where he faces a raft of charges and the prospect of decades in prison. If this is not concluded by the time his criminal sentence finishes, he will continue to be held on the extradition warrant and stands no realistic chance of being granted bail a second time. NICKI JAMESON reports.

 

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‘Perpetual crisis’ in young offender institution

Aylesbury Young Offender Institution (YOI) has been placed in special measures following an internal review into the use of segregation at the prison. Prisoners were found to have been locked in their cells for up to 23 hours a day, with some kept in the segregation unit for three months at a time. Benjamin White reports.

Aylesbury YOI houses 440 young men and is the prison where 18-21 year olds serving the longest sentences are sent, with one in 12 serving life imprisonment. At the time of the 2017 Prisons Inspectorate report, 62% of prisoners at Aylesbury were black or minority ethnic (compared to 26% of prisoners across the system and 13% of the British population). The Inspectorate report further suggests that this group of prisoners is disproportionately targeted for use of force by staff and has less access to medical care than white prisoners.

 

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Not so smart justice

On 18 February Justice Secretary David Gauke gave a speech setting out his ‘vision’ for the future of the criminal justice system – a future he described as ‘smart justice’, in which people currently being sentenced to very short prison terms will instead be subject to rigorous community supervision. Gauke is no liberal but he immediately faced a predictable backlash against the idea that any fewer people should be imprisoned. Nicki Jameson reports.

Gauke’s speech was reminiscent of those from then newly-appointed Con-Dem Coalition Justice Minister Kenneth Clarke in 2010. Like Clarke, Gauke began by highlighting the massive growth in the prison population which took place under the 1997-2010 Labour government, as well as during the previous Conservative regimes of Thatcher and Major – from around 45,000 in 1993 to 83,000 in 2006. Despite a few spikes, such as that caused by the mass imprisonment which followed the 2011 inner-city uprisings, prison numbers have remained generally stable since then. However, the punishment machinery is vast, unwieldy, inefficient by any standards and expensive to run. So, whoever is charged with making overall policy for it will look for ways to solve these problems. A recurrent theme in the quest for a ‘solution’ is the proposal to stop sentencing repeat low-level offenders to short prison terms.

 

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Inside news - FRFI 269 Apr/May 2019

Chelsea Manning back behind bars

Having been released in 2017 following a commutation from outgoing president Barack Obama, on 8 March 2019 Chelsea Manning was sent back to jail for contempt of court, after refusing to testify to a Grand Jury inquiry into Wikileaks and Julian Assange. Chelsea was originally sentenced to serve 35 years for espionage, for courageously leaking details of US attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq to Wikileaks, while she was employed by the US military, along with documents regarding the torture camp at Guantanamo in an illegally occupied part of southern Cuba.

Readers are encouraged to send Chelsea letters and newspapers (cards and books are not permitted where she is held): Chelsea Elizabeth Manning, William G. Truesdale Adult Detention Center 2001 Mill Road Alexandria, VA 22314, USA.

 

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Free Julian Assange! No to extradition!

On 12 April, the Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange was roughly seized by British police from the Ecuadorean embassy in London where he had sought asylum seven years earlier, in a politically motivated assault co-ordinated by the governments of Britain, the United States and Ecuador. He now faces the possibility of 12 months in a British gaol for jumping bail followed by possible extradition to the United States. This latest assault on Assange is intended to punish him for Wikileaks’ consistent publication of classified documents exposing the crimes and brutality of imperialism and to warn off anyone else attempting to do the same. In the words of the journalist John Pilger, ‘Assange’s crime is journalism: holding the rapacious to account, exposing their lies and empowering people all over the world with the truth’.

 

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POA cries wolf over Whitemoor

The end of February 2019 saw press reports of a riot at HMP Whitemoor in Cambridgeshire. The Cambs Times reported that: ‘The trouble flared on C wing and lasted for two hours before it was brought under control... staff members...were beaten by pool cues and had pool balls thrown at them.’  The Prison Officers Association (POA) seized the opportunity to press the government to speed up the issuing of PAVA incapacitant spray to officers.  A Whitemoor Prisoner reports.

 

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Morning Star calls for more weaponry for prison staff

PAVA incapacitant spray

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 268 February/March 2019

In the last issue of FRFI we reported on government plans to arm prison officers across the system with PAVA incapacitant spray and on how the pilot project which Prisons Minister Rory Stewart claimed to have been successful, in fact ‘was unable to conclusively demonstrate that PAVA had any direct impact on levels of prison violence [while] some staff were developing an over-reliance on PAVA... the decision-making process was at times flawed, and ... some staff will use PAVA outside of guidelines’.

 

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Birmingham prison – still unstable, dirty and dangerous

HMP Birmingham

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 268 February/March 2019

On 11 December 2018 the House of Commons Justice Committee heard evidence about recent events at HMP Birmingham, with a view to ‘the broader lessons that might be drawn’ as the Prison Service plans ‘towards 2022 and beyond’. As we have previously reported in FRFI, on 20 August 2018 the government was forced to intervene in the running of Birmingham prison, which had been contracted out to private multinational service-provider G4S since 2011, and which had become dilapidated and dangerous to a degree that could not be ignored.

 

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Conditions deteriorating in Nottingham prisons

HMP Lowdham Grange

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 268 February/March 2019

The use of force by staff at HMP Lowdham Grange has doubled over the past three years. So says the report, published in January 2019, of a surprise inspection carried out in August 2018.* Inspectors also found that levels of violence had increased in the prison over the same period, as had self-harm incidents. This news comes after a series of prisoner protests over substandard conditions in July and August last year, during which protesters were reportedly beaten, attacked with stun grenades and one thrown down a metal staircase. Private owners Serco are actively profiting by subjecting prisoners to these dire conditions. BENJAMIN WHITE reports.

 

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Prison Island

Prison Island

Prison Island – prison expansion in England and Wales, Corporate Watch, 2018 [https://corporatewatch.org/prisonisland/]

‘When the prison doors are opened, the real dragon will fly out.’ – Ho Chi Minh

Prison Island is a valuable educational resource, covering an array of topics like forced labour, the companies lobbying and supporting several planned prison complexes and the misleading nature of state propaganda. While the perspective from which it is presented is one of utopian anarchist abolitionism, the material in the report is of use to all those opposing the capitalist punishment system.

England and Wales have the highest imprisonment rate in Western Europe at 148.3 prisoners per 100,000 people, amounting to 85,000 prisoners currently behind bars in 122 prisons. (This does not include Scotland or the north of Ireland, whose populations are counted separately.) 18% of these prisoners are held in private prisons – a higher percentage than in any other European country or the US.

 

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Prison staff armed and extremely dangerous

Custodial manager Ash Bateman demonstrates the spray

On 9 October, Prisons Minister Rory Stewart announced that from January 2019 all officers in adult male prisons will be issued with the incapacitant spray PAVA, describing this as ‘a crucial step to help reduce serious harm in prisons’. The Prison Officers’ Association (POA) has long campaigned for its members to be provided with the substance and the nationwide roll-out follows what Stewart claimed was a ‘successful trial’ at four prisons. Nicki Jameson reports.

 

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Liverpool fights on

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no.7 November/December 1980

The campaign to defend the Wilkie brothers (see FRFI 6) organised by Liverpool Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! has scored significant successes. On 18 September, a 50 strong picket was held outside the Dale Street Magistrates Court when the brothers appeared for a committal hearing. This was adjourned till 2 October, when an even larger picket, 80 strong, was held giving noisy and enthusiastic support for the brothers, and for the fight against police racism. Already the police are jittery. They have threatened one youth that they will ‘do’ all those who supported the pickets; to another, that they would have ignored some drugs they had found on him on a street search, had it not been for a leaflet on the case they had also found on him.

 

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Prisoners attacked in Wormwood Scrubs

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no.7 November/December 1980

Following the roof-top protest on 9 August, Irish POWs John McCluskey and Paul Norney were savagely attacked by screws in Wormwood Scrubs prison. Two unidentified English prisoners were also attacked.

 

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Savage sentences

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no.7 November/December 1980

On 5 April 1980, referring to the St Pauls uprising, The Sun newspaper said,

‘These are things that we have regarded with horror when they happen in Ulster. We never dreamed that in the England of 1980 we could have ‘no-go’ areas like those of Londonderry. It must never, never happen again.’

In this way The Sun spelt out the fear of the British ruling class that the fightback of the oppressed nationalist people in Ireland would be an example for the oppressed in its ‘own’ country. That black people in Britain would rise up against their oppression and force the racist British police off the streets.

 

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Temporary provisions?

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no.7 November/December 1980

The new Imprisonment – Temporary Provisions Act has the most dangerous implications for prisoners and for the working class as a whole.

The new legislation allows any building to be used as a prison, by decision of the Home Secretary. It allows for the Army to be used to staff prisons. It allows for the suspension of habeas corpus, which means that a remand prisoner no longer has to appear weekly before a magistrate.

 

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PTA arrests - Hands Off Ireland!

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no.4 May/June 1980

On Sunday and Monday 30 and 31 March two leading members of Provisional Sinn Féin (Britain) – Gerry MacLochlainn South Wales Organiser and Jim Reilly Home Counties Organiser – were arrested under the racist anti-Irish Prevention of Terrorism Act.

Both comrades have been subjected to the illegal and discriminatory treatment which all Irish people who fall into the hands of the British state suffer. Denial of access to solicitor and friends, systematic police lies to supporters making enquiries, constant transfer from one station to another and, in this case, actually disappearing for three days. Their case is typical of British harassment of Irish people and exposes the reality of British ‘democracy’ and ‘justice’.

 

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Not a Public Nuisance – victory for anti-fracking activists released from prison

Simon Blevins, Richard Roberts and Rich Loizou are released from HMP Preston

On 17 October three environmental activists, Simon Blevins, Richard Roberts and Rich Loizou, had their prison sentences quashed and were released from prison after spending three weeks of their 15 and 16 month sentences in HMP Preston. They had been convicted on 26 September 2018 of ‘causing a public nuisance’, following protests staged in July 2017, in which they sat on top of lorries for up to 84 hours in order to draw attention to the health and safety hazards posed by fracking (hydraulic fracturation). The protests were supported by Lancashire against Fracking and many local people, as part of ongoing opposition to energy company Cuadrilla’s plans to extract shale gas from the Preston Road area in West Lancashire.

 

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G4S and government fail Birmingham prisoners

Birmingham prison is being brought back under government adminstration

In a stroke of bitter irony the fences of HMP Birmingham are littered with signs proclaiming ‘Protected by G4S’. Nothing could be further from the truth. In 2011 HMP Birmingham, more locally known as Winson Green prison, was the first public sector prison to be transferred into private hands; yet on 20 August 2018 the Justice Secretary announced the prison was being taken back into government administration in an attempt to control the shambolic mess G4S has made of it.

 

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Lewes prison mutiny trial collapses

HMP Lewes

Between 2 and 18 July 2018, five former prisoners from HMP Lewes in East Sussex stood trial for their alleged participation in a protest in October 2016. Prisoners’ rights activist and FRFI supporter George Coombs attended the trial throughout and has written this eyewitness report for us.

On Monday 16 July I arrived at court, after the prosecution had spent two weeks putting forward its case against Ross Macpherson, Stephen Goodwin, Dave Carlin, Shane Simpson, and John Udy. The defence had been due to begin on the Monday but on the Friday before, after the end of the prosecution case, legal arguments resulted in the throwing out of all the main charges of mutiny, violent disorder and threatening behaviour.

 

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Chief Inspector says prison conditions worse than ever

Image: HM Prisons Inspectorate

On 11 July the prisons inspectorate published its annual report into the prison system of England and Wales. Inspectorate reports are rarely a cheerful read but the latest one is particularly grim. Chief Inspector Peter Clarke introduces the report by describing the previous year as ‘a dramatic period in which HM Inspectorate of Prisons documented some of the most disturbing prison conditions we have ever seen – conditions which have no place in an advanced nation in the 21st century.’ Nicki Jameson reports.

 

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HMP Lewes prison mutiny trial

HMP Lewes

On the 2 July 2018 the trial of five prisoners opens at Hove Crown Court. Ross Macpherson, Steve Goodwin, Dave Carlln, Shane Simpson, and John Udy face various charges of prison mutiny, criminal damage and violent disorder in relation to an incident at the prison on 29 October 2016.

 

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Dehumanising system leads to murder inside Woodhill

HMP Woodhill

On 6 June the press reported on an alleged murder in Woodhill prison in Milton Keynes; few details were given at that point, beyond the fact that one prisoner had been killed by three others. The victim was named nine days later but no further details have been published and there has been little information provided to the public regarding the specific location – a special unit operating as a ‘prison within a prison’ inside HMP Woodhill. KEVAN THAKRAR, who has spent many years incarcerated in Woodhill, has sent us this report into the events and the background to them.

 

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Police conspiracy in Cardiff / North of England Irish Prisoners Committee

POLICE CONSPIRACY IN CARDIFF

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no. 3, March/April 1980

On 15 September 1979 two Hands Off Ireland! supporters and a member of Provisional Sinn Féin were arrested during a street meeting in Cardiff city centre. The three were charged with displaying or distributing insulting or abusive writing – the writing in question being Hands Off Ireland! No 8 and a Provisional Sinn Féin leaflet on H-Block.

 

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Arrested by the most liberal policemen in Bristol

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no. 3, March/April 1980

The arrests in Cardiff were followed in October by the arrest of a Hands Off Ireland! supporter in Glasgow and in December by the arrest of Val Greene under the Prevention of Terrorism Act in London (see Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! No 2). The new year got off to a fine start with the arrest of three supporters of Hands Off Ireland! in Bristol on 5 January.

 

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Inside News - FRFI 264 June/July 2018

Parole Board Rules change

On 22 May, in the wake of the John Worboys scandal, a change to the Parole Board Rules came into effect, meaning that anyone can now request a summary of the Board’s reasons for releasing or continuing to detain an indeterminate sentenced prisoner. This only applies to fresh decisions and is not retrospective.

Muslim prisoners fed non-halal meat

A relative of a prisoner at HMP Frankland has asked us to let readers know about an incident in April in which all prisoners were served with sausages that were not halal and may have contained pork. Muslim prisoners were understandably angry and the governor has been compelled to apologise.

 

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Birmingham prison spotlight shone – nothing done

Police in riot gear outside Birmingham prison in 2016

On 3 May the trial of nine prisoners accused of involvement in the 2016 mass protest at Birmingham prison came to an end. The results were clearly not what the government, prosecution or G4S (the private company which manages the prison), had hoped for. Only one of the accused was convicted of the serious charge of prison mutiny; he and three others were also convicted of ‘taking a photo or making a sound recording without authority’ – an offence introduced in 2007 as part of a series of amendments to the Prison Act designed to deal with phones and other devices being used in prison. The remaining five were acquitted on all charges.

Earlier court hearings in 2017 were more successful for those lined up against the prisoners: two men were found guilty of prison mutiny and sentenced to serve nine years each. Four others who pleaded guilty were sentenced to six-year terms. Nicki Jameson reports.

 

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