Protesters occupy HMP Wellingborough construction site

Protesters occupied the construction site of HMP Wellingborough for 6 hours on Friday, successfully halting its work. The work is conducted by a construction, services and property group Kier. The direct action took place during a demonstration against the HMP Wellingborough development, which saw anti-prison expansion activists from across the country gathering to oppose the building of the new mega-prison.

The construction of the prison alone is set to cost £253 million, a sum of money activists say should be spent to fund new schools, bridges, social services or hospitals.

Caren, a campaigner with Community Action on Prison Expansion (CAPE), explained that “the construction of a new mega prison will not serve the needs of the Wellingborough community. On the contrary, the project is designed to pad the pockets of private companies like Kier which is contracted to manage construction. And by building 1,600 new spaces to incarcerate people, we know this project will disproportionately harm working-class, BME and disabled people in our already failing prison system.”

Campaigners gave away flyers explaining why the mass incarceration and prison expansion must be opposed to community members. The flyers included a section on “myth busting,”, which highlighted false government promises that new prisons will bring in jobs and economic development. in reality, new mega-prisons are being built together with large factories which contract prison labour. Local companies are incentivized to transition their workforce into the prison facility where incarcerated people are paid as little as £1 a day. This transition not only exploits prisoners, but also threatens local jobs and wages which are made to compete with this exploitive labour scheme.

The government said its prison expansion project is necessary to address overcrowding, however, as another anti-prison expansion campaigner explained, “Every generation of prison expansion is justified by ‘overcrowding’. In truth, when the government builds new prisons, they incarcerate more people. The only solution to overcrowding in our prisons is decarceration.”

Dr. Sarah Lamble, Reader in Criminology at Birkbeck University and organizer with the Reclaim Justice Network said: “We only need to look at the prison expansion strategy in the USA – to see that it has been a complete and utter disaster, and now there are widespread moves to change direction. We need to learn from those mistakes. Building more and more prisons doesn’t keep people safe, doesn’t reduce crime, and doesn’t actually help local communities or their economies in the long run. It’s a false promise, made to us so politicians can appear to be taking a strong line and tackling social issues. But evidence shows it’s not an effective strategy.”

The anti-prison activists plan a second demonstration at the site on Friday 16th August.