A brief account of a strike of around 250 prisoners at Full Sutton prison in England, from Black Flag magazine #207.
The Full Sutton prisoners' strike
On November 13th, 1995, prisoners at the high security dispersal prison Full Sutton went on a work strike. It's hard to get accurate information about numbers but one estimate reckons on 250 cons refusing to work. This is a massive show of strength for any prison, but especially for Full Sutton where the authorities have traditionally been quick to crush resistance.
Four of the six wings (i.e. all except those for sex offenders) participated in the strike which started in E-Wing and lasted for 3 days. It was ended by the authorities sending in the MUFTI squad, screws tooled up in riot gear, to break it up. This resulted in some clashes with cons, labelled a "riot" by the press where it was mentioned at all. The protest came after a series of restrictions placed on cons over the previous months and was sparked by a new "Incentives and Earned Privileges Scheme" introduced at the start of November.
The instruction to governors setting out the incentives scheme is full of jargon and buzzwords like "incentive-based accommodation units". But it is clear form reading it that the scheme is aimed at increasing the pressure to conform. It adds another level of control in prisons, to the Prison Rules and to Governors' discretionary powers. These already allow for prisoners to be punished for virtually anything, at the whim of a screw and with the inevitable agreement of their superiors. The scheme tries to pretend that it's not about more punishment: "The loss of an earned privilege ...should be seen as a normal consequence of a general deterioration in behaviour and/or performance. It should not be associated with guilt or punishment." Prisoners just aren't convinced!
The scheme makes things previously regarded as rights, specifically visits, access to private cash, association time, wearing your own clothes and home leave into privileges to be earned. Prisoners lose access to these for "acting uncooperatively" or gain more if they play the game the prison's way. To restrict prisoners' contact with family and friends is a blow, and to put prisoners on different levels of pay is intended to create divisions and tension.
But the Full Sutton prisoners are clearly not daft. They could see that to take away what little they had and to make them grovel to get a bit back, is to take the piss. They stuck together and more power to them. One of the lessons of the 1990 Strangeways Revolt is that if prisoners stick together and fight back they can at least win some concessions out of the system.
They are faced with the reversal of some of the positive changes introduced since the 1990 uprisings. The aim is to reduce prisoners' rights, isolate them and reduce the chance of collective action. As the Full Sutton strike has shown, if you push people enough they'll do exactly what you don't want them to, fight back.
The following is an edited account from someone who was there.
A Burning Sense of Injustice
On Wednesday 15th November a serious altercation took place on this wing, in which at least four people were injured after a peaceful demonstration became confrontational & MUFTI and some inmates were involved in violent clashes.
In recent months there have been a number of oppressive measures which have left many inmates with a burning sense of injustice due to the sheer one sided nature in which they have been implemented. This has culminated in the prisoners here taking strike action which led directly to the incident here on E-Wing.
At present the whole prison remains in a state of tension and fear that further trouble may ensue. I have to live here and I can assure you that being in a calm environment with some privileges and rights is still a severe hardship, to have to live in an atmosphere that has in recent months bred hatred and animosity among so many people just seems barbaric and has a detrimental affect on both inmates and staff. There is not a prisoner left in this jail who in under any illusion that they are here FOR punishment and not AS a punishment.
Tow separate issues have caused much ill feeling as they have taken away basic human rights. They relate to an appellants right to phone their solicitor, and proposals recently introduced make contacts with one's family a privilege to be earned with some prisoners getting more visits than others.
I recently complained about the removal of phonecall facilities for appellants, which is now at the sole discretion of a prison officer to decide, often with inmates with appeals pending being told to write letters, which the authorities then sit on. Since my complaint I have had to use the pay-phone, at the expense of contact with my family.
The new pay system that is in operation has caused enormous feelings of resentment. It is a divisive means of trying to ensure that the prison runs smoothly and was a major factor in both the protest and disturbance. The onus is now so much on punishment it seems a major step backwards in terms of trying to make this prison a positive and calm environment.
Source: Taking Liberties, (London ABC)