I like to share Britishism with my folks and we did get a chuckle out of the notion of U.K. inmates being euphemistically called , “guests of the Queen.”
Alas, when one considers rising incarceration rates of people of color in the U.K., and Britons in general, it’s not so funny.
- There are 158 prisons in the U.K. and ten immigration detention centers.
- Despite being only eight percent of the population, in 2006, people of color make up 26% of the prisoners in England and Wales.
- While there are a mere 8,000 men of Afro-Caribbean descent in higher education, there are 11,800 in prisons.
- Though they are assumed to be the liberal party (read: interested in racial justice, though I’ve seen little evidence of that after living here for five years), the Labour Party has enacted 3,600 new criminal offense laws since coming into power in 1997—that’s ONE PER DAY.
In essence, we are seeing the criminalization of Britons and a fast drive toward the U.K.’s own prison industrial complex. And while I am weary of folks in the U.K. attempting to blame every ill on American influence, you got me on this one. My America’s bad. The companies bringing a bit of repressive America to the U.K. are some of the same ones that have colonized communities in the U.S., including Corrections Corporation of America. (I believe CCA is changing their name to do business in the U.K., but it’s still the same exploitative fruitstand selling bad apples.)
The best presentation I went to at the Anti-Capitalist Feminist Conference was by two members of a new group, Communities of Resistance (CoRe). They had a huge amount of material to bring the packed room of activists up to speed, but the upshot for this particular gathering was to heighten our awareness about the ways in which crime and incarceration are racialized gendered. Much like the experience of women, people of color, the drug addicted, and the mentally ill, prisons become the State answer to issues of poverty, unemployment, inadequate health care, and immigration.
CoRe is a prison abolition group and they’re taking cues from the well-established movement in the U.S., most notably from organizations such as Critical Resistance and Incite! As stated in the workshop, prisons are problematic, particularly when we continue to think of them as a solution to the problem of crime with punishment being the end and not the means. Prison corporations promise streamlined efficiency when it comes to dealing with human lives. They bring jobs to communities at teh cost of dehumanizing our attitudes towards rehabilitation and forgiveness. In addition to disparities in sentencing and false imprisonment, you have naked greed taking interrupting the life chances of people already marginalized by institutional discriminaation.
Prison abolitonists are not saying that people in prison are angels and have done no wrong, but we need to look more closely at what crimes are deemed punishable? How long is long enough to be punished? Are victims and society really helped by the massive growth of prisons and incarceration (and often disenfranchisement) of entire communities? Mass incarceration devestates communities. Prison reform has been unsuccessful.
Instead, abolition is proposed as as a process of: a moratorium on sentencing; “de-careration” as opposed to figuring out new ways of criminalization; excarceration, or actually rehabilitating those already in prisons; developing effective strategies to restrain the few who do commit crimes; and evolving a ethos of community care that prevents crime in the first place.
Moves toward abolition are already happening in U.S. states where death penalty cases are being reviewed and there’s been a moratorium on death penalty sentencing. It’s difficult to untangle the moral and legal arguments around prisons, but one thing is sure: no one should be capitalizing on the pain and suffering of victims, nor the anger or despair that makes people commit crimes in the first place.