Several of groups of people are over-represented in the British Prison system. In few words: we are locking up our most vulnerable individuals, from the most criminalised communities. The patterns of which are entrenched in racism, sexism and class inequalities.
Some key facts about who is in prison in the UK:
- 27% of the adult prison population has been in care
- Almost 40% of prisoners under 21 were in care as children
- 72% of male and 70% of female sentenced prisoners suffer from two or more mental health diagnoses
- Over half of the women’s prison population has suffered domestic violence and 1/3 has experienced sexual abuse
- Over a quarter of the UK prison population is also from a minority ethnic group
What is criminalisation and why does it matter?
Criminalisation is the process through which actions become illegal. Actions become crimes only after they have been culturally or legally defined as crimes.
In the UK entire groups of people are targeted by the ‘criminal justice system’ for punishment and control, for example poor people, people of colour, queer communities, individuals with mental health challenges, as well as political organisers.
In the past fifteen years, more than 3,200 new offences were created meaning people who would not have been criminalised previously are now swept into the criminal justice net.
In our culture we are manipulated through myths that anyone who breaks the law (a criminal) is a direct threat to us and our families. We are told that safety of all kinds, including economic security, can be guaranteed by watching, controlling and caging the groups of people who suffer most because of poverty, racism or other forms of oppression.
How are people harmed by the P.I.C?
- Prisons perpetuate and enable violence – Prisons are violent institutions. People inside experience human rights abuses, including sexual assault, rape and medical neglect. The act of putting people in cages is a form of violence in itself.
- Self harm & suicide – There are incredibly high rates of self harm and suicide, both inside prisons, and following release.
- Survivors needs are not met – Prisons do not meet the needs of victims or survivors of violence. Many people feel traumatised by interacting with the criminal justice system, and for those that don’t, the system still remains ineffective in that it doesn’t work or meet people’s real needs. Those most criminalised by the criminal justice system are least likely to want to interact with it.
- Prisons tear apart families and communities – Separating people from their home communities and isolating them in abusive and violent environments can make pre-existing problems worse. Many prisoners break up with their partners, loose custody of their children and loose contact with their families and support networks. They are also likely to loose their jobs, home and possessions.