Academic journal article Social Justice

Transatlantic Visions: Resisting the Globalization of Mass Incarceration

Academic journal article Social Justice

Transatlantic Visions: Resisting the Globalization of Mass Incarceration

Article excerpt

I got in an accident and I wasn't able to work. I was in a hospital for three months and then I was in a therapy center for another month and a half. So I went through a lot of hassle, I had applied for disability, and I was on my first appeal against rejection of that. I guess it was 6 months after the accident that I was granted a welfare grant. I mean I appreciated it and the food stamps, but I had a $500 car, a $500 apartment. So I lost my car, was about to get kicked out my apartment. They were real nice because they knew I'd been in an accident, but I just didn't have any income. That's when it came up that a friend of mine was having problems too because she'd just had a baby and naturally the guy was no good and you know that story. She came to me, she said we could make these couple of runs and be alright. That was how I ended up here. [1]

DENISHA'S STORY is TYPICAL OF THE AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMEN WHO CROWD jails and prisons in the U.S. as a result of a "War on Drugs" that in reality is a war on the poor, on communities of color, and on women who rely on welfare to survive. Yet Denisha is not incarcerated in the U.S. This interview took place in Winchester, a small scenic town and former capital of England, where Denisha is detained "at her majesty's pleasure" in the women's annex of a closed (medium security) prison. Denisha was arrested at Heathrow airport and sentenced to five years for importing cocaine from Jamaica. She is caught up in a dramatic increase in women's imprisonment in England and Wales, which has more than doubled since the early 1990s. This article will focus on the emergence of, and resistance to, the prison-industrial complex in Britain. By mapping the genealogies of resistance that have emerged out of the anti-racist, feminist Left in Britain, I hope to identify possibilities for transatlantic coalition-building and prison abolitionism. The article draws on interviews that I carried out with activists during the years 1999 to 2000, but there are undoubtedly pockets of resistance, which have been overlooked. Hopefully these absences will become more visible as global connections are accepted as an essential part of activism against the prison-industrial complex.

Mapping the PIC in Britain

The relatively small size of European prison populations and the accompanying low official crime rates are often used by advocates of decarceration in the U.S. to demonstrate that a viable alternative to mass incarceration exists and that Europe could be used as a model. However, although rates of incarceration in Europe are lower than in the U.S., we should pause to examine local realities before advocating a European-style penal system. Britain is the most eager incarcerator in Europe (barring Portugal), with an incarceration rate in England and Wales of approximately 128 per 100,000. [2] A dramatic increase in the use of prison during the last decade has led to "the largest prison building program since the middle of the 19th century" (Morgan, 1999: 110). As in the U.S., people of color are dealt with more harshly at every level of the criminal justice system. In 1998, 24% of women and 18% of men in prison were "black" (using the British definition for "people of color"). [3] African Caribbean men and wom en, who make up less than two percent of the free population, are dramatically overrepresented inside. British-born African Caribbean women, at 12% of women prisoners, are imprisoned at a greater rate than men, who make up 10% of men in prison (NACRO, 2000). South Asian, Chinese, and "Other" women and men make up a further five percent and 3.7% respectively. In addition, "foreign nationals," including Caribbean, African, Latin American, and European women, make up 14% of women and seven percent of men in prison. Although prison industries are not as developed as in the U.S., prisoners carry out the maintenance functions of the prison such as cleaning, cooking, and groundwork, as well as assembling electronic components, making clothes, and other contract work for as little as [pound]7. …

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