Prisons Under Protest is a book about the causesand issues involved in the disturbances at Peterhead prison in Scotland in the late 1980's. The author's also suggest that their findings can be generalised to other prison disturbances such as Strangeways in Manchester during April 1990.
Scraton, Sim and Skidmore (referred to as Scraton during the rest of this article) point out that prison protests/riots were not just isolated events, there had been many major prison disturbances throughout the 1970's and 1980's, including several in Scotland.
Scraton discusses the history of Peterhead prison. It was opened in 1888 designed to hold 208 prisoners but was consistently overcrowded. Prison warders wore cutlass and scabbard until 1939 and rifles were carried until 1959. By 1985, Peterhead was seen as 'Scotland's gulag, a prison of no hope' (pg14), the regime had degenerated into extreme brutalization with much more severe punishment than many prisons and some abhorrent punishment such as the 'cage'.
Scraton gives further examples of the poor conditions, prisoners were not allowed to see the prison rules and were punished for trivial offences such as standing against a wall, trying to speak to a doctor, hands in pockets and possesion of a prison rulebook.
Prison protests come becuase they are the prisoners only ways to fight back against the poor conditions, like riots are the 'sigh of the oppressed' so with the prison protests.
This book sets out what poor prison conditions do, they brutalise a section of the population, and rather than stop crime they merely make it worse. Some changes did come as a result of the protests of the 1990's, but with the current overcrowding protests are likely to occur again. Capitalism has nothing to offer offenders rather than poverty and a slow descent back into crime and prison, socialists need to fight for decent jobs and living conditions for offenders and all other working people. Only putting an end to capitalism will finally begin to solve these problems.
PS. This book comes from the Critical Criminology tradition (otherwise called left idealism), I'll discuss the left trends in criminology in future posts
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