An Abolitionist response to the Government’s Prison Reform Plans

stream_imgYesterday, the British State announced its plans for reforming prisons across England and Wales. This article written by the Empty Cages Collective aims to offer some radical analysis on the situation. They will be working with others to research each of these points in more detail and will be writing a series of blogs over the coming weeks.

From first glance, the Government’s White Paper ‘Prison Safety and Reform’ reads like this:

  • A commitment to creating 10,000 new prison places with £1.3 billion invested in new facilities. The first two new prison sites are in Leicester and Northamptonshire.
  • A ‘crackdown on criminal behaviour in prison’. Greater surveillance within prisons driven by the greater criminalisation of prisoners and stronger cooperation between HMP, police and the Crown Prosecution Service to secure more convictions. A reform of current prison discipline. A new “national command” will be created for “enhancing intelligence capability” with more than £3 million invested in greater surveillance of prisoners and prisoner-to-outside communication. Likewise, Serious and Organised Crime and Gang units will be created across the country.
  • 5 new prisons planned for women. Sold under the discourse of ‘community prisons’.
  • The re-design of the prison estate to enable capitalist exploitation of prisoners. This involves building new prisons and developing current ones to allow for ‘workshops’ and other infrastructure for private companies to use prison labour. The number of hours worked in ‘industry’ will become a key prison performance indicator.
  • Devolved powers to Governors who will have autonomy over budgets that can basically re-design their prisons to save on costs and make money at every possible opportunity. Devolved ‘service provision’ includes education, work, family ties, offender behaviour, resettlement and greater influence over healthcare (which won’t be totally privatised – yet).
  • Governors will also have autonomy over ‘workforce planning’. No doubt, this will result in the zero hour contracts, reduced pensions and other workplace measures that people in the Public Sector are better defended from.
  • A widespread adoption of new technologies to block phones, search for drugs, tackle drones and keep prisoners and those out on license under surveillance.
  • A recruitment drive for 2500 new officers. This includes focused recruitment on people from the armed forces, targeting recent graduates and creating a new apprenticeship scheme.
  • Increased criminalisation of psychoactive substances e.g. Spice which will no doubt result in convictions and increased incarceration.
  • Reforms impacting young adults who are framed as the most dangerous and the biggest causes of violence in prisons.
  • A ‘statutory purpose’ for prisons will be enshrined in law (no doubt to underpin the above reforms and enable a greater relationship with private enterprise).
  • Prison Service Orders – the rules about how prisons will be run, often times which have been affirmed on the basis of prisoner rights and past resistance – will basically be dismantled. Despite a commitment to comply with the Optional Protocol to theUN Convention Against Torture (OPCAT), rules within prisons will basically be a free for all.
  • ROTL – release on temporary license (where prisoners can have day release for work or family connection) – looks like it will be heavily impacted as prisoner escape becomes a performance indicator and the discourse of public protection holds steadfast. The white paper wants to ‘counter any presumption to temporary release’.
  • Repeated references to the limitations of short sentences also give us the impression that sentencing reform and longer sentences may become even more dominant.
  • The development of plans for a joint unit to “strengthen responses to the risk of radicalisation and extremism in prisons”. The White Paper states how the “most subversive individuals will be removed from the mainstream prison population and held in specialist units to protect others from their poisonous ideologies”. We expect heightened repression of Muslim communities, as well as greater targeting of political prisoners.

What we know for definite is that now more than ever people involved in anti-prison struggles in England and Wales will need to seriously up-their-game. We are sleep walking into an even more repressive, highly surveilled prison state that will continue to traumatise individuals, destroy families and tear apart communities. We don’t have any answers of how to resist these developments, all we can do is learn from other struggles here and around the world, and try to fight smarter and harder. If you are keen to organise and get involved please email info@prisonabolition.org

There is more information about resistance to prison expansion on the Community Action on Prison Expansion website.

For folks interested in organising around the prison labour reforms please contact the Incarcerated Workers Organising Committee. Please email iwoc@iww.org.uk