The Empty Cages Collective, a federation of prison abolitionist groups based in Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Cardiff and London, is backing a major new conference aimed at growing the movement nationally and gearing up for a campaign to fight the government as it pushes forward building new megaprisons.
The first of the new giant facilities, HMP Berwyn near Wrexham, is set to take its first prisoners in February and with a capacity of 2,106, the category C jail will hold 440 more people than the previous largest, HMP Wandsworth. It is one of five megaprisons being built and alongside another four smaller facilites they will enable the government to lock up 10,000 more people at a time.
Criticism of the expansion has been rife, not least because the government has been unable to run even its existing facilities. Wandsworth itself has severe problems, and a long history of neglect and mistreatment has led to a simmering atmosphere of hatred which boiled over last year into the Birmingham prison riot.
The No More Prisons conference will be held on March 4-5, hosted by Manchester No Prisons. They said:
We hope to meet each other, co-ordinate our struggles, share our skills, and educate one another on our campaigns. Register on-line; we can offer transportation, funding and housing for people coming for the weekend.
As you may know, the government is in the process of building five new mega-prisons in the UK, while at the same time increasing the rates of arrest, conviction and the length of prison sentences. This is intimately connected to austerity: as services are cut, the police and prisons move in to solve problems caused by mental health, poverty and homelessness. At the same time, anti-immigration policy means more and more refugees and undocumented workers languish behind bars in detention centres.
But we can fight back against this trend! The wave of prison uprisings currently rolling across the system shows that prisoners are fed up and getting organised. It is a crucial moment for us to act. And across the country, anti-prison expansion campaigns are growing, alongside campaigns against unjust sentencing, police violence and brutality, racial oppression, and other issues intimately connected to the prison system.
Many of these struggles remain locally focused. We need a movement that can also address the national picture, that can coordinate large enough mobilisations and campaigns to truly stop these new prisons in their tracks. With that in mind, we want to gather the people working on these various campaigns to coordinate, learn, and build a network capable of fighting against the new prisons, unjust sentences, police violence, and for immigrant justice as a united force.
Please join us for a weekend in sunny Manchester to discuss all these issues. A program will be sent out soon.