Reclaim Justice Network supports ICOPA 2018: Abolitionist Futures

Logo2017 was the year for building walls, division and securing borders. We want 2018 to be the year of building bridges, strengthening international movements and creating spaces for learning and collaboration to build a world without punishment, prisons and police.

Reclaim Justice Network are supporting International Conference on Penal Abolition 2018; Abolitionist Futures: Social Justice Not Criminal Justice in London, 15th – 18th June, at Birkbeck, University of London.

Over the four days, we hope to be questioning, resisting and dismantling policing, prisons, immigration detention and punishment, and the broader systems of oppression that maintain the carceral state; as well as building alternatives, alongside local and international movements for social justice.

We know there are worldwide activists doing incredible anti-prison organising work, who want to join in the movement-building this summer. We are also supporting by ICOPA 2018 by fundraising to provide solidarity bursaries to help cover the costs of registration, travel, accommodation and disability support for those on low income. We will be allocating these bursaries with the ICOPA Organising Committee, against a set criteria.

In allocating funding, we will be prioritising those from disadvantaged backgrounds, especially people of colour, LGBTQ, disabled, indigenous and formerly incarcerated people, who should be at the forefront of our movement.

For more information, please contact us at, or contact the ICOPA Organising Committee directly on

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Less eligibility: Why prison reform fails

J M Moore writes on the failures of prison reform, and why the core function of prison is to maintain an unequal social order.

On most days my Twitter feed contains the exasperated tweets of frustrated prison reformers. They talk much sense: prison conditions are appalling, they could relatively easily be improved; short sentences are disruptive, causing massive collateral damage to the lives of the incarcerated and their families; education inside is appalling … I could go on. As one recent tweet stated-in respect of getting ex-prisoners jobs- “it’s not brain surgery”.

Reformers’ frustrations are at one level entirely understandable. They repeatedly make proposals that have the potential to reform the prison place, many of which would undoubtedly improve the lives of the incarcerated. These proposals could be implemented relatively easily, often with little or no cost. But despite this the reforms either get rejected out of hand or, when implemented, are rapidly subverted in ways that defeat their reformative aspirations.

The rejection of reformers suggestions often appears to be irrational. Surely reformers and those in charge of prisons share the same aims? Prime Ministers acknowledge prison’s failure to achieve its stated aims. Justice Secretaries talk about rehabilitation, about making prison work, the potential of education, training and useful work. Is the prison just being wilful? How else can we explain its consistent rejection of these reformative proposals?

I have written previously that the “Prison Works” debate routinely fails to consider ways in which prison works remarkably successfully. By focusing on the stated objectives of deterrence, reformation, retribution and incapacitation – theoretical philosophical justifications – state punishment’s function of maintaining the existing unequal social structure is ignored. This was understood by the Frankfurt School sociologist Georg Rusche, who wrote in 1933 that:

all efforts to reform the punishment of criminals are inevitably limited by the situation of the lowest socially significant proletarian class which society wants to deter from criminal acts. All reform efforts, however humanitarian and well-meaning, which attempt to go beyond this restriction are condemned to utopianism (Rusche 1978: 4).

By focusing on state punishment’s core sociological function rather than its philosophical justification Rusche highlights the role of less eligibility – a Benthamite concept developed in relation to the development of the new poor laws in the early 19th century – in limiting the potential for penal reform.

Since the financial crisis of 2008 social policy has been dominated by austerity. Its impact has not been equal, with the burden falling disproportionately on the poorest, most marginalised, and socially excluded in society. In other words, the very class whose condition, according to Rusche, placed a limit on the potential of reform. Austerity has been accompanied by an increasingly penal approach to social welfare, characterised by the punitive sanctioning of those on benefits and the imposition of racist internal controls on migrants and ethnic minorities.

The transfer of the cost of the financial crisis onto the poorest and most marginalised – the banks got refinanced and the poor get poorer – has significantly shifted the baseline against which prison life is measured. To reflect these changes in society prison regimes have inevitably deteriorated. Penal reformers will, as they have done for centuries, continue to argue for reforms. But their “common sense” arguments are blunted by the principle of a less eligibility. As life outside the prison gets harder, so regimes inside need to adjust. The deteriorating conditions in prison are therefore not a malfunction but a successful adjustment which enables the prison to continue to function.

The challenge therefore is not to reform prison – that is as Rusche points out ‘utopianism’ – but to recognise the links between the prison and wider social structure. Prison is unreformable and needs to be abolished.  But abolition cannot be achieved by critiquing the prison solely in terms of its philosophical justifications.  It also requires understanding prison’s core function of maintaining an unequal social order and working to create a more equal and just society alongside the dismantling of the prison place.


Rusche, G. (1978) ‘Labor Market and Penal Sanction: Thoughts on The Sociology of Criminal JusticeCrime and Social Justice, Vol. 10, pp. 2-8.

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Build communities, not prisons 

Deborah H. Drake and David Scott explain why prison building doesn’t lead to better lives and stronger communities Continue reading

Posted in Articles, Comment and Resources, No More Prison, Prison Profiteers | Leave a comment

Fit to run a prison? G4S dodges difficult questions

Sarah Uncles reports on G4S’ annual general meeting where boss praises BBC reporters for exposing abuse at G4S child prison.

G4S boss Ashley Almanza said the BBC team who exposed abuse in a G4S child prison deserved to win their BAFTA Award. Almanza was speaking at the company’s annual meeting on 25 May at the Holiday Inn, in Sutton, Surrey.

An undercover BBC reporter had filmed shocking abuse of child prisoners at G4S Medway Secure Training Centre in Kent. One boy, who had self-harmed, was subjected to unlawful violent restraint on the anniversary of his mother’s death. A burly G4S guard yelled in the face of another child, aged 14, grabbed him, pushed him onto a table, twisting his arms behind his back. The BBC Panorama film, broadcast in January 2016 won the current affairs BAFTA in June 2017.

Almanza, G4S chief executive officer, commended the documentary, saying that Panorama had performed a “good public service” and “deserved” the BAFTA. He confirmed that G4S has withdrawn from two of the three youth service government contracts to date, following the Panorama revelations.

Almanza’s comments came in response to a series of questions that Reclaim Justice Network members put to G4S directors at the company’s annual general meeting. Reclaim Justice Network campaigners advocate social justice, not criminal justice, and call for the immediate and complete withdrawal of G4S from all criminal justice services in the United Kingdom.

The UK government continues to rely on ineffective practices of policing, surveillance and prison to address complex economic, social and political problems. The prison industrial complex describes the overlapping interests of government and private industry in the criminal justice sector. G4S profits from government contracts in care and justice services.

G4S proudly claims to be “the world’s leading, global, integrated security company”. According to its 2016 annual report, the company boasts a massive £296 million profit before tax. The market dominance of G4S is perhaps surprising, given its long, tainted history of serious failings.

For the fourth consecutive year Reclaim Justice Network members attended the meeting, as shareholders, to challenge the board on the company’s record.

Extreme security

Airport-style security measures, intimidating and intrusive, have become routine at G4S annual meetings. All electronic devices, bags and accessories had to be removed and placed within a locker. Every shareholder was required to walk through a metal detector and then have their body scanned by a guard armed with an electromagnetic wand.

Uniformed G4S guards, and other staff identifiable by their blue lanyards, lined the walls and were strategically placed amid the rows of shareholder seats.

Once the meeting began it became clear that G4S personnel overwhelmingly outnumbered the independent shareholders in the room.

John Connolly, G4S chairman, opened the meeting, drew attention to the “meeting procedures” and warned that anyone who disrupted the meeting would be asked to leave. “Safety is incredibly important and is our number one priority,” he said.

What followed was a fine-tuned and polished performance of weaving evasiveness by chairman John Connolly and chief executive officer Ashley Almanza.


A question was posed concerning remuneration and awards to staff. Specifically, the performance-related pay awards given to the senior managers at Medway youth jail in April 2016 that amounted to between 10% and 25% of their annual salaries.

report by the Chief Inspector of Prisons concluded that “managerial oversight failed to protect young people” who suffered both physical and psychological abuse at the prison.

Almanza, who took home £4.8m in pay and perks last year, said that those directly involved with the abuse had been removed from their positions and subjected to a police investigation. However, he avoided commenting on the bonuses received by the senior managers whose failed oversight arguably put young people at risk of harm.

Revolving doors

Another question concerned G4S’s new recruit Paul Kempster — until recently a civil servant and “head of custodial contracts” for 12 UK prisons. The questioner wanted to know the time lapse between Kempster’s government job and the start of his contract at G4S.

Connolly and Almanza both hesitated to answer. They asked other members of staff and received confirmation that Kempster had “started fairly recently”. Connolly stepped in, saying: “I am sure that whatever is standard time lapse protocol has taken place.”

This is not the first time that government employees have been snapped up by G4S. The revolving door creates inevitable conflicts of interests in government decision making and increased interference of private companies in the public sector.

John Connolly, by the way, was formerly senior partner and chief executive at the big accountancy firm Deloitte’s where he trousered a £5m annual pay package just as the financial system came close to collapse.

Poor performance

Another questioner asked about faulty electronic monitoring equipment administered by G4S, that may have led to unwarranted enforcement action.

Almanza said the faulty batches were removed and “the client”, meaning the Ministry of Justice, was satisfied with this response, although no investigation into the consequences of this error was undertaken.

The shareholder then asked how many fines and penalties G4S has paid because of contractual failures, such as this. Almanza said he was “not at liberty to disclose”, there were confidentiality concerns, and he directed shareholders to “ask the client”.

The questioning then moved onto a riot in Birmingham prison in December 2016. Prisoners took over four wings for 12 hours, igniting fires and destroying prison records. The shareholder asked whether the board agreed that “G4S are not fit to run prisons”, given that it had overseen “the worst prison riot in 26 years”.

Connolly intervened and instructed Almanza “not to answer”, claiming the comment was phrased as a statement, not a question. Almanza said that he didn’t agree with the shareholder’s statement and “neither do our clients”. The board refused to discuss the riot or elaborate further.

Prisoner safety

Concerns about safety in G4S prisons were raised by another shareholder who asked whether rates of self-harm and suicide had improved.

Almanza took the question. He was quick to point out that self-harm has increased across UK prisons. He explained that in the last year there had been 344 non-natural deaths in prisons, including seven in prisons run by G4S.

This raises concern. G4S are not specialists in mental health provision and prisons are not institutions fit for vulnerable individuals experiencing mental illness. Almanza, in his own words, described the “daunting, unsettling and isolating” environment of prison that can lead to self-harm.

Transparency? Accountability?

Concluding remarks were made by a shareholder who expressed disappointment with the lack of direct answers provided to the shareholders’ questions.

Annual general meetings supposedly provide a forum for transparency and accountability. This meeting lacked both.

At the start one shareholder had complained that the minutes of the 2016 G4S annual meeting were the “worst set of minutes” she had ever seen. They covered only formal business and failed to record serious concerns raised by shareholders. G4S’s legal officer asserted that the minutes complied with legal requirements.

During the meeting, the board consistently failed to provide specific information that shareholders requested — from statistics on self-harm to details of financial penalties. For many of the issues raised the responsibility was passed to their clients, the Ministry of Justice.

John Connolly did invite shareholders to put any specific questions in writing, guaranteeing that the board “will get back to you”.

This article is also published on OpenDemocracy.

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RJN News: May 2017

STOP G4S: Join us at the G4S AGM
Do you want to challenge G4S’ role in the criminal justice industry? We have five more shareholder places at the 2017 AGM taking place at the Holiday Inn London, Sutton on 25th May at 2pm.
Can you or any of your friends join us? Please get in touch with Sarah at and leave your name, address and phone number.
If you can’t make it – please send us your questions!
Campaign updates
Reclaim Justice Network has directly opposed the government’s construction of nine new prisons across England and Wales. New mega prisons are to be built in Port Talbot in South Wales, while HMP Hindley in Greater Manchester, HMP Rochester in Kent and HMP Full Sutton in East Yorkshire will be demolished and rebuilt at triple their size with 1,000 extra places.
Following the closure of HMP Holloway, Reclaim Justice Network are now working with other campaigners to build a broad-based, local campaign to ensure the site is protected for benefit of women, Londoners and the local community.
  • The Community Plan for Holloway project is keen to hear from local Islington residents for their views on the Holloway redevelopment through their new survey.
  • A local resident or community group who wants to hold a meeting on what should happen on the Holloway land? Please get in touch.
  • Find out more by watching interviews with Islington residents and Community Plan for Holloway here.
  • A new research project at the Open University wants to tell the stories of people who identify as lesbian/gay, bisexual, trans*, queer or intersex, and have served a prison sentence in a women’s prison in England, or have worked in a women’s prison as a prison officer.
  • Community Action on Prison Expansion have released the first No More Prisons podcast which asks how can we stop the new UK mega prisons
  • StopWatch have released a new publication Stop and Search: A Guide for Parents and Children and short film aimed at parents or guardians whose children have been stopped and searched, or who are concerned their children will be in the future. To order a copy of the guide e-mail
  • Black Lives Matter are hosting an open conversation on demands for black lives in the upcoming election | London, 27th May
  • Brighton Against Detention in collaboration with MARS are showing three films documenting detention in the UK, with ex-detainees from All African Women’s Group sharing their stories | Brighton, 19th May
In solidarity
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G4S to be challenged on record for delivery of criminal justice services and commitment to human rights.


Reclaim Justice Network (1), who campaign for social justice, will be attending the G4S Annual General Meeting in Sutton, London on Thursday 25 May (2), to call for G4S to immediately withdraw all criminal justice services in the UK. This represents the fourth consecutive year that Network shareholders will be asking G4S board members questions about their record in delivering Care & Justice services, which includes (3):

  • Custody, detention and rehabilitation
  • Electronic monitoring
  • Secure health
  • Forensic medical and police support
  • Secure transport

A shareholder report will subsequently be produced by the Reclaim Justice Network, with details of the meeting and the G4S board responses (4).


(1) Reclaim Justice Network is a collaboration of individuals, advocacy groups, practitioners, researchers and people most directly affected by criminal justice systems, who are working together to radically reduce the size and scope of criminal justice systems and to build effective and socially just alternatives. Learn more at

(2) Annual General Meeting of G4S plc will be held at the Holiday Inn London Sutton, Gibson Road, Sutton, Surrey SM1 2RF on Thursday, 25 May 2017 at 2.00pm. Full details of the meeting can be found here

(3)  As laid out in the G4S Annual Report 2016 – Page 3

(4) To read reports from previous Reclaim Justice Network shareholder actions, click here

(5) For further information e-mail or call 07968950223


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Public Meeting about the new prison in Rochester 27/04/2017


When: Thursday April 27th 2017,  7 – 9pm

Where: Rochester Community Hub, Eastgate, ME1 1EW

Why:  The government has announced plans to build six new mega-prisons in England and Wales, creating at least 10,000 new prison allocations.

One of those sites will be in Rochester, replacing the Young Offenders Institution currently on the site located next to HMP Cookham Wood.

The development is part of the government’s £1.3 billion Prison Estate Transformation programme.

We want to talk about what can be done to challenge this new prison in Rochester. All are welcome!

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RJN News: March 2017

Campaign updates
Reclaim Justice Network has directly opposed the government’s ‘prison building revolution’, and the construction of nine new prisons across England and Wales. The government has recently announced the four new prison sites earmarked for expansion. A brand new mega prison will be built in Port Talbot in South Wales, while HMP Hindley in Greater Manchester, HMP Rochester in Kent and HMP Full Sutton in East Yorkshire will be demolished and rebuilt at approximately triple their size with 1,000 extra places.
Against these plans too?
STOP G4S: Do you want to get involved in the 2017 G4S shareholder action?
Members of the Reclaim Justice Network will be attending G4S’ AGM as shareholders on 25th May (venue TBD) to question the Board on their role in criminal justice industry.
  • Are you interested in becoming a shareholder and joining us in holding G4S to account? Just send your full name and address to and we will transfer a single share into your name.
  • If you cannot become a shareholder but would like Reclaim Justice Network to ask the G4S Board a question on your behalf, please e-mail us!
  • Read our reports from the AGMs over the last three years: 2016 report, 2015 report and 2014.
Following the closure of HMP Holloway, Reclaim Justice Network are now working closely with the Reclaim Holloway coalition to build a broad-based, local campaign to ensure the site is protected for benefit of women, Londoners and the local community.
In solidarity.
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Campaigners blockade Charter Flight

Last night, activists from a coalition of migrant solidarity groups blockaded a charter flight leaving for Nigeria and Ghana.

The campaigners from End Deportations, Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants (LGSMigrants) and Plane Stupid say this is the first time this kind of direct action has stopped a mass deportation charter flight.

The activists held up ‘No One Is Illegal’ banners as they camped out on the runway to stop the flight. The blockade was live-streamed on Stop Charter Flights’ Facebook Page.

The campaigners point to statements made on the website Detained Voices that detail some of the threats faced by those being removed on the Charter Flight.

One woman on the flight said: “My ex-husband said he knows I am being deported. He is waiting for me. He is planning to kill me. If he kills me- who will look after my children?”

Another male deportee said: “I have been in this country for almost 18 years. My family and my life is here in the UK. If they take me back to Ghana I will kill myself.”

Charter Flights are specially commissioned flights used to remove people under the cover of darkness to Pakistan, Albania, Nigeria, Ghana, and Jamaica. Charter Flights

Reclaim Justice Network wishes to express solidarity with those threatened by charter flights and the campaigners resisting the flights. We hope it sparks a critical debate about mass removals, the immigration detention system and racist state violence more widely.


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Reclaim Justice Network response: New prisons will lead to waste of life


The government’s prison building programme will lead to a tragic waste of lives and resources, says the Reclaim Justice Network in response to the announcement of four new prisons in England and Wales.

We need a frank and honest debate about the negative impact of new prisons on local communities. New prisons can have potentially negative impacts on the community including pressure on local services, concerns around safety, loss of jobs through prison industries, harmful consequences on the families of prisoners (especially children) and deterioration in local health care provision.

The only ‘winners’ here are the companies profiting from the construction of these vast institutions. As with other prison building programmes such as at the recently opened HMP Berwyn in North Wales, the government has made unsubstantiated claims about the so called ‘benefits’ to local economies and communities.

Commenting on the announcement, Dr David Scott, a member of the Reclaim Justice Network said,

“Given the historic failings of the prison to meet its rehabilitation goals and the current tightening of government budgets, when it comes to dealing with overcrowded prisons the most sensible and rational approach is to reduce the prison population. We should not be spending taxpayers’ money on new mega prisons but rather reinvest the proposed money to help ordinary people live decent and fulfilling lives in the community.”

Prisons are places of violence, suffering and death. The prison building programme is a hugely emotive issue and will lead to a tragic waste of resources and lives. If the government was serious about creating safer and healthier communities then they would focus on investing in welfare provision, education and health care for all.


1. Pressure has been mounting on the government since the start of the year to halt the £1.3bn prison building programme. Grass roots organisations, including Reclaim Justice Network, Reclaim Holloway, JENGBA, INQUEST, Action for Trans Health and SMASH IPP are calling for a moratorium on prison building.

2. Reclaim Justice Network is a collaboration of individuals, groups, campaigners, activists, trade unionists, practitioners and researchers and people most directly affected by criminal justice systems, who are working together to radically reduce the size and scope of criminal justice systems and to build effective and socially just alternatives.

3. Dr David Scott is a member of the Reclaim Justice Network at works at the Open University. He has been researching prisons for more than 20 years and has published 8 books on prisons and punishment.


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