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What is Prison For?


CN for prison, whorephobia, police abuse, and mention but without details of suicide.

Last night Carter reminded us all of the existence of Isabella Sorley, the kind of woman who is so easily forgotten, who doesnt fit the neat boxes which excite the compassion of mainstream feminism. Nor does she excite the interest of those free speech advocates who seemingly only defend the hate speech of the rich and powerful (Not that Sorley was guilty of hate speech, it seems more an old, tired story of anger and alcohol being a dangerous mix)

Then, I heard of the news of the death of Vicky Thompson, a trans woman who committed suicide after being put in Armley. Armely is a name redolent with past horrors in the north, one of our victorian prisons creaking under the weight of sucessive governments who saw increased incarceration as a good thing. AS HMP inspectors make clear in their last report it still has a number of issues, particularly around suicide and self harm.

You may wonder why I raise this at all, Thompson was in the wrong jail, that’s all there is to it, drop the demand for GRCs as proof of gender, put trans women in women’s jails, move on.

Did going to jail help Isabella Sorley?

Another story from yesterday, the Urgent call for action from X talk as a migrant sex worker faces prosecution for “loitering” with condoms. If convicted it sets a terrifying precedent of condoms as evidence, and means we have to add walking whilst being a migrant to #WalkingWhileBlack and #WalkingWhileTrans. If MP breaks the ASBO she faces 5 years in jail. 5 years for popping to the shops,  or yes, trying to work to support her family. She is not the first sex worker to be targeted this way. 

The criminal justice system is used to coerce and control women who do not fit into societies norms. The Howard League has recommended that only those women who commit serious offences should receive custodial sentences, yet 58% of women in prison are there serving less than 6 months. When it comes to vulnerable women such as Sorley, Thompson, or earlier this year Tara Hudson we have to ask what is prison for? It seems there are 4 reasons to send someone to prison

  1. To “send a message” It is never made clear who is being sent a message or why however. In this category we might put 15 yr olds imprisoned for terrorism,  a looking glass world where children groom adults and the message matters more than common sense or engagement.
  2. Punishment. This seems obvious, we punish people who have done wrong. The fact that what is deemed wrong is purely subjective, and changes according to your viewpoint is of course ignored by the punishment fetishists. This subjectivity is why so many people I know are angry that undercover policemen are not facing time for sex by deception when Gayle Newland is behind bars.
  3. Rehabilitation. Prison is, some argue, where people are forced to engage with their behaviour, to attend courses which lead to change. I can see nothing wrong with this as a goal, with of course the proviso that again what needs to change is totally subjective. Does a mum who shop lifts to feed her children need to learn stealing is wrong, or does she need a basic income? Does a sex worker need retraining in sewing or the decriminalization of sex work?
  4. Finally there is protection, I do not think anyone would disagree that there are a small minority of people who are a threat to society as a whole, and whom, sadly must be kept apart from society.

So, prison, if it is not to be about subjective feelings about what crimes, what people, what groups matter, should exist for the protection of society from those deemed to be a threat, of a serious, and fact based nature. Not a supposed threat, not a threat to our values, not a threat based on secret evidence or supposition, but a direct provable threat to other members of society. It is infact acknowledged by those who defend the removal of the right to vote that part of being in prison is being put outwith society. Unfortunately we have such a divided society that many are imprisoned who never felt a part of it in the first place, and prison simply reinforced their idea of themselves as other.

It was an act of state violence against Vicky Thompson that she was sent to a male prison. Gender recognition certificates are unneeded state regulation which must be abolished. These are facts, however it is also a fact that sending vulnerable women to women’s prisons is also wrong. It serves no purpose other than to please the punishment fetishists. Women’s prisons are not places of safety, they are not part of the solution, they are part of the problem.


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This entry was posted on November 20, 2015 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , .

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