A while ago, Bristol ABC was one of a number of groups contacted by Ben Gunn, a prisoner at HMP Shepton Mallet, and nominated general secretary of the executive committee of the soon to be (re)launched Association of Prisoners, essentially a union for prisoners. We reproduce here the aims of the AoP, and calls for support. If you are in touch with any prisoners please pass this info on. This pdf may be a useful format for printing/circulating infoAssoc of Prisoners_aims See also this blog The Prisoners Voice for other background info.
The text is as written by Ben Gunn, although we have changed the order for ease of understanding ie putting the AoP Aims at top, and added in some links to help (and images are by us too).
AoP Campaign Aims
- Advocate ending the use of imprisonment as a solution to social problems.
- An immediate end to imprisoning people who have not committed violent or sexual offences.
- An immediate end to imprisoning people with mental health problems.
- To institute restorative justice, addressing the needs of both criminals and victims, recognising that both are part of the wider community.
- To end the iniquitous practice of sentencing people for what they may do in the future, i.e. IPP and Life sentences.
- To influence prison regimes in order to reduce the harm they cause.
- To campaign for prison regimes to operate with the lowest possible restrictions on personal freedom.
- A structural consultation process where the views of prisoners are reflected in outcomes. Prisoners must have a strong say in how they are treated.
- In accepting that the loss of liberty is the sole punishment elements in imprisonment, to focus regimes upon genuine rehabilitation.
- Education, training and the maintenance of family involvement should be paramount in prison regimes.
- To end the use of prisoners’ labours by commercial companies for below minimum wages.
- For every prisoner to be offered a place in employment, education or training whilst in prison.
- To end the commercial exploitation of prisoners, such as through inflated telephone prices and overpriced consumer goods.
- To end the iniquity that is the Incentives and Earned Privileges Scheme.
- For internal discipline hearings to be adjudicated by an independent person.
- To remove the limit on the level of private money that can be spent on telephones.
- The ending of forced psychological treatments for which there is no independent evidence of effectiveness.
- For all prisoners to be offered private family visits at least four times a year.
National Campaign Launch
We all know that dealing with PSHQ (Prison Service Headquarters) is a task for the unwitting and dim-witted. They are a slippery bunch at the best of times. But PSHQ has been causing the Executive Committee of the AoP a headache for the last year and that has meant that we have been grappling to see the best way forward.
After much drinking of tea and several ounces of Old H being consumed in endless little meetings, we have a solution to the problem. Did I mention the problem? Oh, well… When the AoP was first founded by John Hirst, Pete Smith, John Coyne and others the PS accepted the legal reality – they just couldn’t stop it happening. For the first time in British penal history, HQ had to find a means of dealing with organising prisoners that didn’t involve harassment or brutality. And so lines of negotiations were opened and it looked as if the PS were going to be sensible, just for once.
But no. Obviously. They then put out PSO 4480, which told governors that they could ignore us. It also created the stumbling block that has had us scratching our heads for the last year. The PS claims that we cannot have a national association, because prisoners just don’t have enough common interests.
We hummed. We ahaad. We smoked, drank, argued and banged our heads off many brick walls. Until we found this solution – ignore HQ.
We don’t care what HQ says. It’s as simple as that. Article 11 of the ECHR says we can have an association and so we damn well will. Of course HQ doesn’t want to see that happen; they have always hated the idea of cons having any sort of voice, let alone an organised one. Well, tough. We are here and here we stay.
We have written to the DG to tell him that we are going national, recruiting members and encouraging prisoners across the country to set up branches in their prison.
Instead of us wondering how to deal with HQ, we decided to act and then let HQ decide how to deal with us.
And we expect a bit of grumbling, a bit of fancy footwork, and we won’t be surprised if they formally ban the AoP. We would welcome the legal fight -that way we can get them into court and skewer them properly. The idea that prisoners don’t have common interests is barking mad. Whilst prisoners come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, colours and creeds, genital arrangements and so on, we all share common burdens. We are all prisoners.
The PS is a national service, not a loose collective of individual fiefdoms. We all live by the Prison Rules and Prison Service Orders. These instruments increase the weight and depth of the burdens felt by every prisoner no matter in what location or category. When the Minister of Justice has a bad day, we all feel the consequences.
That the only, the best, argument that HQ has against the AoP is a claim that prisoners don’t have common interests only reveals the desperate corner that they are in. They don’t get to decide if prisoners have common interests – prisoners get to decide that. They cannot stop cons organising; that is the law. As long as we don’t go around trying to overthrow the system, if they ban us then they will face the legal consequences.
Call For Support
The Association of Prisoners is this generation’s attempt to give prisoners the voice we have long attempted to have heard.
Many other groups and organisations exist which play a role in attempting to change the prison system. Some are small and advocate abolition. Some are large, and advocate slow change. Some groups confine their work to specific subgroups of prisoners while others conduct broad based campaigns.
Along with the AoP, prison reform groups span the full width of political thought and action. The sole common ground sometimes seems to be dissatisfaction with the status quo.
This is a call to put differences aside. Prisoners need your help. In order to function, the Association of Prisoners needs the support of reform groups as well as prisoners themselves.
This is a once in a generation opportunity to help form a broad movement which could reshape the landscape of power within prisons and lead to real, positive change.
We hope that you can support us, in whichever way you can. At this moment, the immediate need is to spread the word, informing prisoners across the country that there is a group to represent their interests and which encourages them to set up unions in their particular prison.
We call on everybody to use their contacts with prisoners, individually or collectively, to pass this call over the walls.
Setting Up The Union In Your Prison
We want to build the organisation across the country. In each of prison, just one person needs to get to the library and read Article 11 of the ECHR and grasp the legality of what we are doing. Then read Prison Services Order 4480 (link to it as a doc here). It is several pages long and most of it is waffle. Ignore the negative tone, as we grow that will change.
1. Write to your Governor, informing him that you are setting up a Prisoners Representative Association under Article 11 of the European Convention. Send a copy to your solicitor as well, just to cover your back. Tell the governor that you are open to discussions as to how the association can operate in your particular prison. If the Governor is an idiot, he will hit the roof and instantly break the law by banning the idea of an association. If he has more sense, he will accept the inevitable and, through gritted teeth, have some half-sensible things to say.
2. Ask the Governor how he intends to facilitate the Association. You will need to be able to communicate with people on other wings, put up notices and hold meetings and elections. The Governor has to work out how these things can take place.
3. Once you have informed the Governor of what you are doing, someone on each wing needs to be able to go from door to door asking people if they would like to join the Association, like to put themselves up for election as a local association leader, and whether they would like to vote for the local leadership. All legal and above board.
4. Pass your list of members to Elkan Abrahamson, Jackson & Canter Solicitors or Inside Time, or to myself (Ben Gunn).
5. Come up with a list of issues you wish to campaign about in your prison. Whilst there is a national list of issues the AoP wish to campaign over, it is important that local branches identify their own.
6. Watch this space.