Swaleside – collective misery will become common purpose

On 22 December 2016 the fifth ‘serious disturbance’ in English prisons in two months broke out at Swaleside Category B prison in Kent. The unrest throughout the system now seems uncontainable as conditions within most prisons become increasingly inhuman. Long-term prisoner and FRFI contributor John Bowden, who was recently moved back into the English prison system from Scotland, comments from Swaleside.

Following each recent riot the Prison Officers Association (POA) offered its own well-publicised and opportunist explanation for the ‘crisis of control’ now afflicting most prisons: insufficient staff. Whilst it is certainly true that financial cutbacks in prison resources have caused a serious decaying of conditions and infrastructure, as well as reduced staffing levels, the actual cause of the current prisons crisis originates in the ‘get tough’ criminal justice policy of the Tony Blair government, and those that succeeded it.

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Violently attacked by Wakefield search team

Kevan Thakrar prison

During my 13 days at HMP Wakefield in March 2010, I was severely mistreated. Every attempt has been made to cover this up since then, however it remains part of ongoing litigation. Prior to my return here in 2015, my solicitor raised serious concerns about plans to locate me back here, especially whilst the matter remains ongoing, but was assured that the constant use of a video camera during all interactions with prison staff and the additional protections of a double-door cell, with instructions that no officers enter whilst I am in it, would keep me safe from further harm. From the beginning, these assurances have proven meaningless, with my treatment worsening as time passes but even I was shocked by the stupidity of the latest attack upon me.

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Whitemoor escape trial stopped

'In one form or another all long-term and high-security prisoners in both Whitemoor and other gaols will be made to suffer in revenge for the escape and it will be exploited by Michael Howard and friends to win sympathy for repressive policies already in the pipeline.' FRFI 121 October/November 1994.

'Although such publicity was embarrassing for the government and Prison Service, it was also of use to them as they sought to further crack down on prisoners' rights and entitlements. Indeed, for varying reasons, a high-profile but profoundly dishonest examination of the apparent failings of the prison system suited the Prison Service, the Prison Officers' Association (POA), the government and the opposition parties.' FRFI 123 Feb/ March 1995.

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Books behind bars: Angels with dirty faces – Walidah Imarisha

As I tend to only read books which have been recommended to me by others, I find I have a similar taste to, most are old with some so old it is almost impossible to get hold of a copy especially through the underfunded prison libraries in this country. This is made worse by the obscurity and niche category of what I have found to be the greatest titles, resulting in some remaining on my to-do list until I am lucky enough to come across them years later. When I then recommend these same books to others, I know it is unlikely they will hunt them out with the same level of dedication I have, but some books are just too good to keep quiet about.

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Activist acquitted on terrorism charges – a victory for the freedom to organise politically

Between 13 and 16 December 2016 the Central Criminal Court at the Old Bailey was treated to a lesson in revolutionary politics, socialism and armed struggle, as revolutionary activist Alaettin Kalender went on trial, charged with possession of articles likely to be of use to terrorists. 

The prosecution followed police raids on 6 April on the Anatolian People’s Cultural Centre in north London and the homes of two of the Centre’s activists. Items seized from Alaettin’s home included a copy of a 67-page magazine produced by the Turkish revolutionary organisation Devrimci Sol (Revolutionary Left) in 1997. 

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Crisis and reform – prisons under the spotlight

prisons under the spotlight

On 3 November, against a backdrop of increasingly dramatic headlines about a prison system in crisis, the Ministry of Justice published its White Paper, Prison Safety and Reform, which sets out the Conservative government’s plans for reshaping the prison system. The White Paper, the precursor to the Prison Reform Bill promised by former Justice Minister Michael Gove and now being managed by his successor Liz Truss, had been in the pipeline since the Queen’s Speech on 18 May but was delayed by Brexit and the resulting Cabinet reshuffle. Its publication therefore took place at a moment just weeks after a particularly violent incident in Pentonville prison in which three prisoners were stabbed, one fatally, and days before a ‘riot’ at Bedford prison. Nicki Jameson reports.

A further week later Pentonville was on the front pages again as two prisoners made a daring escape over the wall. Then, on 16 November, members of the Prison Officers Association (POA), who are legally banned from striking, staged an unofficial walk-out in protest against staff shortages and fear of violence against its members. Although prison officer numbers have genuinely been cut in the recent period, the POA is simply repeating the same refrain it has uttered since its inception. Its suggested solution to the ‘crisis’ is not that prisoners should have access to more education, rehabilitation etc to divert them from violence against one another or themselves, but that they should be locked up for even longer each day and allowed even fewer opportunities to leave their cells and associate with one another.

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Black prisoners in British jails - Interview with Shujaa Moshesh

Shujaa

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! No. 83 – January 1989

Shujaa Moshesh (previously Wesley Dick) was released from prison in August 1988 after serving thirteen years. He was arrested, with two others, in the Spaghetti House siege of 1975. Before his arrest he was a political activist in the black community and it was the political character of the Spaghetti House siege that led to heavy sentences against those involved. Inside prison Shujaa was a well-known fighter for the rights of prisoners and played a leading role in numerous strikes and protests. For this he was victimised and lost most of his remission. Terry O'Halloran and Maxine Williams interviewed him shortly after his release.

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British Prisons - a different sort of crisis


The first weeks of 1995 saw prisons hitting the headlines on a daily basis. There was widespread talk of crisis and calls from all sides for the resignation of the Prison Service Director General and the Home Secretary. But was this crisis real or was it largely fabricated by the media and other interested parties? Nicki Jameson examines the issues.

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State Repression

 

In some ways the British police haven't changed a bit. In a review of the findings of the Policy Studies Institute report, Police and People in London, in November 1983, The Economist wrote: `Under his peculiar Victorian Helmet, your ordinary London bobby is racist, sexist, bored, aimless and quite often drunk.' Fourteen years later, the police force still pretends to be concerned about the racism and sexism which, it openly admits, festers in its ranks: it just fails to do anything about it. What has changed are the powers which these bigots possess in law. For, since 1981, the British state has systematically transformed the police in one respect they are now organised and equipped both legally and in paramilitary terms to deal with political dissent by overwhelming force. On the receiving end of this transformation has been a generation of workers, black people and political activists — in 1984-5 it was the striking miners and the Broadwater Farm Estate, today it is road and environmental protesters. The British state is tooling up and honing its powers for future confrontations with the working class and its allies. CAROL BRICKLEY reports.

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Protest against the brutal CSC system!

http://www.revolutionarycommunist.org/images/articles/kevan.jpg

The Close Supervision Centre (CSC) system is essentially an English version of US Supermax prison conditions, indefinite solitary confinement within the most oppressive and brutal environment found in this country. As only around 50 prisoners fall victim to the CSC at any one time its existence is largely unknown even amongst the general prison population.

With a decreasing level of funding for the prison system whilst prisoner numbers continue to rise it is inevitable that more and more failings and inadequacies will be identified. When the entire prison system can be seen to be declining in the level of treatment it provides, it is obvious that those already at the harsh end will suffer the most.

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Books behind bars - Marshall Law

Marshall Law

I often find myself discussing books, with people regularly asking me for recommendations, due to the amount of time I dedicate to reading. Having recently finished Marshall Law: the life and times of a Baltimore Black Panther by Marshall ‘Eddie’ Conway and Dominique Stevenson, I thought I would let everyone know that this is a book you really should not miss. In 1970 Eddie Conway was framed for the murder of a Baltimore City police officer, due to his political activities, as part of the attempts to annihilate all movements for equality under the infamous US government Counter-Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO). This is his autobiography after 40 years’ wrongfully imprisonment and a lifetime of oppression due to his skin colour and economic standing.

The story alone is fascinating; the language and writing style keeping you totally gripped throughout, and the message Eddie delivers is one we all need to hear. A lot can be learned from this book, especially considering the drive to emulate the US justice model in Britain, and very few are better placed to educate than a man who has devoted himself to being on the right side of humanity, even when his enemies put him on the wrong side of the law.

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US prisoners demand an end to prison slavery

On 9 September, prisoners across the US marked the 45th anniversary of the historic Attica prison uprising in 1971 by commencing a series of strikes and actions which is continuing as we go to press. Nicki Jameson reports.

This wave of protest is the most widespread expression of discontent and resistance to hit the US prison system since the 1970s; however the mainstream press has been largely silent about it. Alternative news website The Intercept, one of the few news sources to report on the strike, described the prisoners’ demands as follows:

‘...inmates are protesting a wide range of issues: from harsh parole systems and three-strike laws to the lack of educational services, medical neglect, and overcrowding. But the issue that has unified protesters is that of prison labor – a $2 billion a year industry that employs nearly 900,000 prisoners while paying them a few cents an hour in some states, and nothing at all in others. In addition to work for private companies, prisoners also cook, clean, and work on maintenance and construction in the prisons themselves.’

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Justice for the Craigavon Two! - End brutality in Maghaberry prison!

On 24 September supporters of the framed Craigavon Two demonstrated in Dublin, London and in more than 30 locations worldwide. FRFI supporters joined the protest in London. One of the Craigavon Two, John Paul Wooton, made a phone call from Maghaberry prison to the Dublin protest, which was outside the Irish state broadcaster RTÉ. John Paul condemned the ‘conspiracy of silence’ by RTÉ and other corporate media outlets, accusing them of ‘consenting to the miscarriage of justice’ and ‘actively colluding’ in the wrongful imprisonment of the Craigavon Two.

Brendan McConville and John Paul Wooton were convicted of the killing of PSNI officer Stephen Carroll in March 2009. Following the killing there was a huge state and media outcry and, under pressure to make arrests, the PSNI manufactured and manipulated evidence. The result is that the Craigavon Two are likely to spend the rest of their lives in prison. They need our support.

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Books behind bars: I Phoolan Devi – Bandit Queen

Books behind barsOf all the true stories I have read, one stands out as the most painful and inspirational of them all. I, Phoolan Devi: the autobiography of India’s bandit queen by Phoolan Devi is perhaps the greatest and most harrowing account ever produced in print. Nobody who reads this can fail to be moved by the experiences of one of the most unfortunate, yet courageous females to have lived. Kevan Thakrar writes from HMP Wakefield.

Phoolan Devi was born into a poor lower caste family in India where she was heavily disadvantaged from the start. Growing up with almost nothing was not easy, and being female did not help. Unable to conform and submit to local custom, her outspoken resistance led to mild childish bullying building up to the most severely brutal treatment imaginable. When she sought help, those with the ability to intervene instead chose to contribute to her torture.

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Swaleside prison - rage, frustration and despair

Swaleside Prison

Prisons Inspector Peter Clarke’s 2016 report regarding Swaleside Category B long-term prison in Kent described it as a ‘dangerous prison’ and one that had deteriorated significantly since his last highly critical report into Swaleside in 2014. In fact, the ghettoisation of Swaleside prison simply reflects the reality of existence in virtually all prisons in England, as mass overcrowding and neo-economic financial cutbacks to every dimension of public spending reduces prisons to little more than penal slums for the most brutalised and marginalised. JOHN BOWDEN, a long-term prisoner, now at Swaleside, reports.

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British prisons – ‘tough, unpleasant and uncomfortable’

Responsibility for the prisons of England and Wales now lies with Theresa May’s newly appointed Justice Minister and Attorney General, Liz Truss. Despite having written in 2011 that prisons should be ‘tough, unpleasant and uncomfortable’, Truss has insisted that she will continue the widely publicised ‘prison reform’ programme commenced by her predecessor Michael Gove. Nicki Jameson reports.

While Gove was busy with Brexit and power-grabbing, his ‘reform’ plans, announced in the Queen’s Speech on 18 May, were put on the back burner. The promised Prison Reform Bill does not yet exist, although the first six ‘reform prisons’ have been named and are beginning to operate.

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Free Tony Taylor!

Teresa Villiers picket

The continued imprisonment of Derry Republican Tony Taylor demonstrates once more the undemocratic nature of British rule in the north of Ireland.

Tony Taylor is a former Republican prisoner, who was released on licence by Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers in August 2014, after three years in prison. He had previously served six years in the 1990s and been released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

Since his release in 2014 Tony has been involved in legal political work for the Republican Network for Unity (RNU), including community initiatives and mediation aimed at keeping young people in Derry out of trouble. RNU representatives say that Tony Taylor has ‘spearheaded the revival of RNU in Derry’ and that is why he has been singled out by the British state.

The chair of the Free Tony Taylor Campaign in Derry spoke to FRFI to give us some background: ‘On 10 March 2016 Tony was on a shopping trip with his partner, his disabled son and his two teenage daughters. Armed police surrounded the family car and Tony was arrested and taken straight to Maghaberry prison. Tony’s solicitor has been told that he was returned to gaol on the basis of intelligence reports that he cannot see or challenge.’

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Inside News - FRFI 251 Jun/Jul 2016

Whitemoor protest

For several weeks in summer 2015 long-term prisoners on one wing at HMP Whitemoor complained about lack of basic toiletries, including toilet roll and washing-up liquid, lack of access to new clothes and a range of other complaints about their living conditions. Things came to a head at the end of September when the prison closed the wing kitchen, meaning prisoners were unable to cook their own food.

After failing to get staff to address their complaints and having repeatedly requested to see a senior manager to no avail, prisoners staged a peaceful protest by refusing to return to their cells. A manager did then arrive and negotiate, offering the prisoner wing reps a meeting with a governor the following day. The prisoners then returned to their cells.

The day after the meeting, and two days after the protest, 19 prisoners were placed on report for failing to obey the ‘lawful order’ to return to their cells. A disciplinary hearing then found them guilty on this charge, ignoring their solicitor’s submissions that procedural flaws and breaches of Articles 10 (freedom of expression) and 11 (freedom of association) of the European Convention on Human Rights rendered the charges unlawful. Prison Service headquarters has recently reviewed the charges and, presumably fearful of the case ending up in court, overturned the guilty findings (inexplicably all except one which is now being further appealed).

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Hillsborough and Orgreave - Questions of state power

Hillsborough and Orgreave

The final verdict of the Hillsborough inquest jury on 26 April 2016 has now established police responsibility for the 96 deaths in 1989. It took 27 years for the victims to get justice. The striking miners who were charged with riot at Orgreave in June 1984 are still waiting for an independent inquiry into police conduct. The Hillsborough verdict has reopened the issue of Orgreave, not least because the same police force was involved. Carol Brickley argues that these events are more than a question of police incompetence and corruption. What lies behind this contemptuous treatment of working class people are questions of state power.

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Protest against Close Supervision Centres

KT protest

A secret world exists within the high security prison estate in England, known as the Close Supervision Centre (CSC) system. The dehumanisation of CSC prisoners begins at a very early stage, in the official justification for the creation of the CSC system, which focuses on the need to contain a new breed of unmanageable and unpredictable risks. It continues with the creation of classificatory categories of ‘dangerousness’ which objectify prisoners and make more of the category and less of the human in them, and it is reinforced by the tightly controlled and highly regulated routines.

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Joint enterprise – a racist dragnet

On 18 February 2016 the Supreme Court and Privy Council issued an important judgment in relation to convictions on the basis of ‘joint enterprise’. Prison landings were immediately buzzing with excitement, as prisoners convicted of murder or other serious crimes of which they were not the actual perpetrator saw the possibility of an end to their ordeal. Unfortunately the reality is more complex but this is still a very positive step and a credit to the campaign group JENGbA* and others who have fought to get this ruling. Nicki Jameson reports.

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Cameron and Gove’s ‘prison reform’ plans

The current prison population of England and Wales stands at 85,930, exceeding the Certified Normal Accommodation (CNA) limit, – the number of prisoners who can be held in decent and safe accommodation – of 77,272. This means that 8,658 men and women are being held above safe capacity, with at least five prisons operating at over 150% of CNA.

It is well known that prisons are not fit for purpose and offer very little in terms of rehabilitation or care for some of the most vulnerable people in society, with 59% reoffending post-release after a sentence of 12 months or less. Despite this, successive governments, both Labour and Tory, have endlessly repeated the mantra that ‘prison works’ and that the way forward is through yet more incarceration.

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Birmingham Six - Free! At last!

'I don't think the people in there have got the intelligence to spell the word justice, never mind dispense it. They're rotten!'

Paddy Hill outside the Old Bailey, 14 March 1990

On his release Paddy Hill summed up the character of the British judicial system — rotten to the core. The collapse of the case against the Birmingham 6 exposed the enormity of the cover up over which 11 judges had presided. Without them the intricate web of lies and deception woven by prison officers and 25 police officers, including former Police Superintendent George Reade, could not have withstood the repeated challenges of the Birmingham 6 and their solicitors. LORNA REID examines the biggest political, judicial and police conspiracy in the annals of 'British justice'.

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Free all the framed prisoners: John Bowden interviews John Walker of the Birmingham Six

PRISONER-TO-PRISONER : FIGHTBACK SPECIAL - JOHN BOWDEN INTERVIEWS JOHN WALKER IN LONG LARTIN

'I wouldn't extradite a dog to this country'

FREE ALL THE FRAMED PRISONERS

JOHN BOWDEN is a prisoner in Long Lartin and a regular contributor to FRFI. Three days before the final appeal of the Birmingham 6 he managed to record this interview with JOHN WALKER inside the prison.

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Policing the crisis

' . . . the latent object appears to have been that of placing at the disposal of the Home Secretary a body of well-trained disciplined and armed men. competent to intimidate the public and to keep down the rising spirit of the population.'

Captain W White, on the formation of the new police force, 1838.

Britain's police, prisons and criminal justice system as a whole are in crisis - we are told. After fifteen years of Tory rule, a mass of legislation, a great more rhetoric about 'crime', 'criminals', 'terrorists', 'yobs', 'single parents' etc, a record prison population and with a repressive Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill on the verge of becoming law - we still need ever more draconian regimes to deal with the 'criminal classes', according to the Government. Grotesque crimes are spotlighted in the media to fuel the endless public appetite for real-life horror. The message is that we are all at risk from violent crime. What is really going on? Yes, the Tories are running scared that they will lose their 'Get Tough on Law and Order' reputation to the revamped Labour Party... but there is more at issue than that. Carol Brickley examines the real purpose of Britain's police force.

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Scotland: Jailing then failing the vulnerable

The total Scottish prison population as of 8 January 2016 was 7,895. This is made up of both sentenced and remanded prisoners and includes people released to serve the end part of their sentence on home detention curfew (electronic tagging). Current Scottish government statistics predict this population will remain fairly static between now and 2022-23. Yet more lives, individuals and families, will be torn apart.

In July 2015 the Scotland Institute published a report Mental health and Scotland’s prison population.* Up to 2011 Scotland had the highest incarceration rate in the European Union (150 per 100,000 members of the population) despite recorded crime figures steadily falling since the early 1990s (p8). It stated that ‘despite the gains’ from the SNP government’s Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 which brought to an end the use of short-term prison sentences, replaced by non-custodial community payback orders, ‘Scotland continues to incarcerate the most vulnerable and marginalised in our society’ (p9). It reported that as many as 80% of prisoners, especially women, suffered from poor mental health but were not receiving the services and treatment they required. Since 2000 the female prison population in Scotland has risen by 120% despite conviction rates remaining stable, causing trauma to mothers and their children.

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G4S caught in the act of abusing child prisoners

I expect many FRFI readers in prison will have watched the Panorama programme ‘Teenage Prison Abuse Exposed’ on Monday 11 January. Panorama sent an undercover reporter to work as a custody officer at Medway Secure Training Centre (STC) Kent. I was involved in the making of the programme and was not the least bit surprised when the reporter, who carried a hidden camera, recorded scenes of staff gratuitously abusing the young people in their care. I have been on the case of STCs for around seven years and my files are full of horror stories, none of which, until now, we were able to prove. Because, of course, nobody listens to the kids brave enough to report abuse. I was shocked at one scene though, a 15-year-old who had a history of self-harm, being assaulted by a member of staff. The boy had lost his mum when he was seven and the assault took place on the anniversary of her death. Staff were seen boasting of their thuggery to other officers, clearly confident there would not be a whistle-blower among their colleagues.

Medway STC is run by G4S, who also run the other two, Rainsbrook and Oakhill. (Though they are losing the contract to run Rainsbrook in May, after a truly damning inspection report in January 2015.)

Following the programme, G4S put out a statement saying they had sacked four staff members and suspended three more. They also made much of the fact they had passed the allegations of assault by staff over to Kent police. In other words, they were saying that the abuse was down to ‘a few bad apples and we are throwing the book at them’.

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Holloway prison to close Summer 2016

On 25 November 2015 Secretary of State for Justice Michael Gove revealed that Holloway prison, Europe’s largest female prison, located in north London, is to be closed in the summer of 2016. Amy Stanley reports.

During its 164 years in operation terrible suffering has been inflicted on women in Holloway and we do not mourn its passing; however it is obvious that this closure is not designed to reduce the number of prisons or the number of people affected by imprisonment, and will in fact create more space within new facilities to imprison more women, while increasing the inconvenience to their families, and giving the government a cash dividend from the sale of the land the prison stands on.

Holloway can hold almost 600 women; according to Gove, its closure will assist to ‘radically reform’ prisons, cut crime, and enhance public safety. However, this claim was overshadowed by the further announcement that the site is to be sold to become luxury housing. Gove boasts about contributing to solving the housing crisis but these new homes will be entirely unaffordable for local working class people, including of course the very same women and families who have experienced the criminal justice system inside Holloway.

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Inside News - FRFI 248 Dec 2015/Jan 2016

Shaker Aamer – free at last

On 30 October Shaker Aamer, a British resident held without charge at the US concentration camp in Guantanamo for nearly 14 years was finally released. Shaker Aamer is a Saudi citizen who had lived since 1996 in London and whose wife is British. He was captured by bounty hunters in Afghanistan and handed over to US forces in December 2001, before being taken to Guantanamo Bay two months later. He has never been charged with any offence and was cleared for release in 2007. During his incarceration, Aamer suffered extensive ill-treatment at the hands of his captors, with the full knowledge of British officials. A psychiatric report in December 2013 concluded he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety, and experiencing hallucinations as a consequence of years of isolation and inhumane treatment. He now intends to sue the British government over its complicity in his mistreatment. The RCG, which has supported the campaign for his release over many years, welcomes Shaker Aamer’s release. Now we must demand: Close down Guantanamo! Free all the detainees!

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Liverpool prison – filthy and dangerous

Between 11 and 22 May 2015, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) conducted an unannounced inspection of HMP Liverpool,* which holds 1,191 male prisoners. The subsequent report, published on 20 October, revealed appalling and inhumane conditions with overcrowded, filthy cells and prisoners locked up for 23 hours a day; circumstances which had led to 11 deaths during the previous 14 months. Amy Stanley reports.

HMIP reports summarise the conditions and treatment of prisoners based on four tests of a ‘decent prison’: safety, respect, purposeful activity and resettlement. Overall, the 2015 report stated that outcomes in HMP Liverpool were ‘not sufficiently good’ across each of the criteria, which is management-speak for dreadful.

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