Boris Johnson wants 10,000 new prison spaces. But activists are taking action to stop that from happening.

Protesters locked on outside the entrance to HMP Wellingborough building site
Glen Black

Boris Johnson recently promised to deliver 10,000 new prison spaces. The government plans to reach this goal by expanding old prisons and building new ones. But one group is already taking action to scupper this proposal.

Direct action

On 16 August, members of Community Action on Prison Expansion (CAPE) brought work at HMP Wellingborough to a standstill. When finished, the prison will contain 1,650 people, leading campaigners to call it a ‘mega-prison’. CAPE said in a press release that:

building new prisons and incarcerating more people does nothing to address the root causes of harm in our communities, it simply sweeps away and isolates those who have been made the collateral damage of the government’s austerity project.

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As a result, the group took direct action to slow construction of HMP Wellingborough down. Two people blocked the main entrance for several hours by ‘locking on’ (securing themselves to each other using locks and pipes to make their removal difficult). Meanwhile, other people held banners that said “Build communities not cages” and “No more mega prisons”.

It was CAPE’s second Friday in a row halting work at HMP Wellingborough. The Canary previously reported on the group’s success halting work at the site on 9 August.

The group said that these two actions are part of a:

multi-week campaign… to stop the government’s massive prison expansion project and dissuade private companies, like Kier, from taking government contracts to build and operate the new prisons.

Kier is the main contractor at HMP Wellingborough. And CAPE has estimated that Kier will pocket £143m of the prison’s total £253m cost. But the anti-prison group said this money would be better spent on social care, education, and health services in order to tackle the root causes of “harm in our communities”.

A radical idea

CAPE’s action came just days after Boris Johnson pledged to create 10,000 new places in prison. This came as part of a wider ‘law and order’ announcement that included extending stop-and-search powers. Johnson claimed he wanted “the criminals to be afraid” and that he must end “any sense that the law is weak”.

However, criminologist Sharon Hartles pointed out that people don’t commit criminal acts because they’re ‘unafraid’ of the law:

CAPE echoed this statement, further pointing out that prisons are also a profit-making sector. Anna, a member of the group, said in a press release:

Companies like Kier pad the pockets of their millionaire shareholders and CEOs by locking up vulnerable people. We want the prison profiteers to drop these contracts which we know will harm communities around the country for generations.

Keeping up appearances

The Canary previously reported on shadow home secretary Diane Abbott’s criticism of Johnson’s plans to extend stop and search. Abbott said it was little more than the Tories wanting to “appear tough” rather than tackling the real causes of harmful behaviour. And the same could be said of Johnson’s desire to expand the prison system.

Featured image via CAPE

Get involved

  • Watch two British prison experts, David Scott and Faith Spear, discuss the role that prisons play in our society.
  • Read this to learn more about methods of social justice without prisons or police.

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  • Show Comments
    1. CAPE said “building new prisons and incarcerating more people does nothing to address the root causes of harm in our communities, it simply sweeps away and isolates those who have been made the collateral damage of the government’s austerity project.”

      Or as some people would say “it simply sweeps away and isolates those who are a danger to the property and well being of their innocent victims”

    2. As Clinton found when he introduced the 3 and you’re out scheme it is helpful to your donors to increase the capacity of prisons to maximise profits it is also helpful to target 10,000 more prisoners, let’s be honest here we will be seeing a surge of poor young boys and many of colour incarcerated, paid for by the taxpayer for the benefit of the prison complex shareholders.

      1. It’s a plot to lock up poor young boys and “people of colour”?

        I thought it was a move to lock up criminals, thus protecting those who they would otherwise continue to rob and cause physical harm.

    3. You can read in America how the private prison system used it’s prisoners as slave labour to manage a profitable cotton farm. I think this was in Alabama. So an officer would say “he looks to be a strong worker lets arrest him” So much for justice.
      In an ideal, naive world criminals would be constrained to prevent the public from harm. But what about politicians who think nothing about waging war, yet answer for the deaths, or fraud in the Brexit Referendum?
      We need to be protected from these people but nothing at all happens.
      It’s really not so simple an issue about who is the criminal here.
      There are the unfortunate who resort to crime, and prisons only make it worse.
      Check out Norway’s system.
      Who decides who is the criminal?

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