This year was key for us as we announced our new name, launched our new website, and released our intro pack, while our active membership grew significantly both inside and outside of prisons. Following the international Black Lives Matter uprising and widespread calls to defund the police, abolitionist thinking has reached a wider audience than possibly ever before and become an increasingly central principle for activists all over the world. At the same time, the coronavirus pandemic has seen prisoners in the UK subjected to harsh lockdown restrictions, being confined to their cells for 23 hours a day and having visits cancelled for a major portion of the year. The time when our work has been most challenging has also been when it was most needed.
Much of our organising happens out of public view, and over the course of this year we’ve continued with our primary work — supporting incarcerated people and their loved ones. We’ve raised money for individuals inside or recently released, intervened with prisons on behalf of those facing bullying, violence, or the denial of healthcare, and continued to maintain contact and support through our regular letter writing.
Between March and November we ran our Covid-19 fundraiser We transferred money directly to prisoners’ accounts to cover the high costs of keeping in touch with people on the outside while visits were cancelled, and the cost of essential items from commissary when loved ones were struggling to send in money that would normally go towards these purchases. We ultimately distributed more than £20,000 to over 600 people. In July we partnered with bluebaglife to run a public campaign on the health risks of overheating in prison cells — an especially serious problem during this year’s heatwave with people on lockdown and unable to access showers or fresh air.
In March, just before lockdown hit, we co-organised a protest outside of the Royal College of Psychiatrists to mark our member Kevan Thakrar’s birthday. We called on the RCP to stop giving their accreditation to Close Supervision Centres, the secure ‘prison-within-a-prison’ units in which people like Kev are held in appalling conditions of effective solitary confinement, as explained in this open letter from Legal Action for Women and Payday Men’s Network.
Over the Christmas and New Year period, a time when people’s separation from their loved ones is often most keenly felt, we traditionally take part in noise demonstrations outside of prisons, sending a message of love and solidarity over the walls. Covid has rendered that impossible this year, but we have partnered with LCAPSV, JENGbA, and CAPE to send messages directly to people inside. If you would like to contribute a short message to remind someone in prison that they are not forgotten by those on the outside, use this easy form.
In 2021 our work continues, and we look forward to continuing to collaborate with other excellent organisations and activists to strengthen and grow the UK’s burgeoning abolitionist movement. We know that we’ll have to fight on multiple fronts to prevent the normalisation of harmful lockdown measures introduced in the name of fighting covid, the expansion of the prison estate, and the further deterioration of conditions for incarcerated people. If you would like to be involved in the work we do, or you know someone in prison who is facing difficulties or would appreciate some regular contact, get in touch.
From everyone at PSN, stay safe and have a happy new year.
Here’s to a world without prisons.