Build communities, not prisons 

Deborah H. Drake and David Scott explain why prison building doesn’t lead to better lives and stronger communities

The prison industrial complex is large and growing.  Prison building and expansion projects generate trade exhibitions, mail-order/Internet catalogues, and direct advertising campaigns that seek to engage architects, construction firms, investors, food, landscaping and plumbing supply companies, and other firms that specialise in fixtures and fittings for large industrial building.  There is no doubt that the building of prisons creates a market of both temporary and permanent employment opportunities and can appear to increase the economic potential of the lucky local community that agrees to house a prison in their area.

If we look more carefully, however, at what the prison industry is, does and costs, prison building programmes become less attractive.

Economic benefits?

In 2003, researchers King, Mauer and Huling carried out the first study to use statistical controls to measure the effect of a prison on the local community, including its impact on the local economy and on employment and per capita income trends.  The study examined 25 years of economic data for rural counties in New York and looked at 38 prisons located in upstate counties.  The full report can be found here: Big Prisons, Small Towns: Prison Economics in Rural America, but some of their key findings indicated that:

  • In 25 years, there was no significant difference or discernible pattern of economic trends between the seven rural counties that hosted a prison and the seven rural counties that did not;
  • Residents of rural counties with one or more prisons did not gain significant employment advantages compared to rural counties without prisons;
  • Unemployment rates moved in the same direction for both groups of counties and were consistent with the overall employment rates for the state as a whole;
  • During the period from 1982 to 2001, these findings are consistent for the three distinct economic periods in the United States, and in fact, the non-prison counties performed marginally better in two of the timeframes;
  • Counties that hosted new prisons received no economic advantage as measured by per capita income;
  • From the inception of the prison building boom in 1982 until 2000, per capita income rose 141% in counties without a prison and 132% in counties that hosted a prison.

When comparing new prison towns across the USA with other towns of a similar size, Besser and Hanson (2004) also found that there was no discernable differences between unemployment rates between 1990 and 2000 between the towns.  Like King et al., they concluded that building a new prison did not create jobs for local unemployed people.

At a similar time to the above studies there was a further comprehensive analysis of prison towns in the USA by Hooks, Mosher, Genter, Rontolo and Loboa (2004) who explored the impact of prison building and job growth in the USA from 1976-1994.  In a follow up study, expanding the period to 2004, Hooks et al (2010) found once again that the evidence shows that rather than promoting economic prosperity and creating new jobs, in both urban and struggling rural communities, prisons may actually impede employment growth.  Hooks et al. (2010) conclude that “our research into employment growth suggests that prisons are doing more harm than good among vulnerable counties.”  The reasons why prisons failed to provide economic stimulus to the local economy included:

  • There were not necessarily new jobs as prison officers moved from other prisons to fill the new jobs;
  • There was the possibility of adverse local impacts of prison labour through prison industries and low cost prisoner labour;
  • There may be a paucity of local skills and direct connections to the services required by the new prison.

Despite the initial promises of economic prosperity that it is assumed can be made from opening a prison, these promises are not borne out in practice.  Moreover, no prison can generate income or be ‘cost efficient.’  Prisons cost a lot to run and they drain resources from other areas of social life, such as hospitals, schools, housing or social services.  Investing, instead, in local services, programmes, health and education sectors or other community-focused initiatives would be a far better use of resources and, incidentally, are more effective than prisons at PREVENTING crime, as opposed to responding to it after the fact, as prisons do.  That is, the idea that increased funding for police and a larger prison estate will solve and economic problems is a myth.

Human costs

Setting the obvious economic shortcomings to prison building aside, let’s think for a minute about the human and social costs of prisons.  Firstly, there is no evidence that prisons effectively do very many of the things they claim to do.  This has been repeatedly demonstrated through society’s years of experimentation with the prison and in numerous academic considerations (see Mathiesen, 2000 for example).  Prisons do not deter crime, they do not ‘rehabilitate’ prisoners, they do not prepare people well for law-abiding lives in the community.  The only functions that prisons serve well relate to pain and suffering: they deliver punishment and incapacitation and, symbolically: they are a demonstration that ‘justice’ is being done and that the ‘system works’.

Prisons are places that cast out, ostracize and de-socialise members of our communities and society.  They are places that take things away from people: they take a persons’ time, relationships, opportunities, and sometimes their life.  Prisons constrain the human identity and foster feelings of fear, anger, alienation and social and emotional isolation. For many prisoners, prisons offer only a lonely, isolating and brutalising experience.  At best, prison environments are dull and monotonous living and working routines depriving prisoners of basic human needs. At worst, they are places of violence, suffering and physical and psychological pain.  Combined with saturation in time consciousness / awareness, these situational contexts can lead to a disintegration of the self and death (Scott, 2016).

For prison officers and other prison staff prisons are toxic environments.  Stress, illness and sometimes also death are perils of prison work.  Prisons do not encourage health, education, renewal, care, compassion, decency or any of the other values that most societies and individuals cherish.  Instead, they stimulate humiliation, illness, anger, hatred and punishment.  They are places that encourage moral indifference between staff and prisoners, where the shared humanity of prisoners and staff is neutralised and where the pain and suffering of one another is ignored.

Rather than investing in criminal justice and building more prisons in a time of economic austerity, we should be demanding investment in our communities, in our social lives and in programmes that centralise the importance of social justice – for everyone.

Posted in Articles, Comment and Resources, No More Prison, Prison Profiteers | Leave a comment

Fit to run a prison? G4S dodges difficult questions

Sarah Uncles reports on G4S’ annual general meeting where boss praises BBC reporters for exposing abuse at G4S child prison.

G4S boss Ashley Almanza said the BBC team who exposed abuse in a G4S child prison deserved to win their BAFTA Award. Almanza was speaking at the company’s annual meeting on 25 May at the Holiday Inn, in Sutton, Surrey.

An undercover BBC reporter had filmed shocking abuse of child prisoners at G4S Medway Secure Training Centre in Kent. One boy, who had self-harmed, was subjected to unlawful violent restraint on the anniversary of his mother’s death. A burly G4S guard yelled in the face of another child, aged 14, grabbed him, pushed him onto a table, twisting his arms behind his back. The BBC Panorama film, broadcast in January 2016 won the current affairs BAFTA in June 2017.

Almanza, G4S chief executive officer, commended the documentary, saying that Panorama had performed a “good public service” and “deserved” the BAFTA. He confirmed that G4S has withdrawn from two of the three youth service government contracts to date, following the Panorama revelations.

Almanza’s comments came in response to a series of questions that Reclaim Justice Network members put to G4S directors at the company’s annual general meeting. Reclaim Justice Network campaigners advocate social justice, not criminal justice, and call for the immediate and complete withdrawal of G4S from all criminal justice services in the United Kingdom.

The UK government continues to rely on ineffective practices of policing, surveillance and prison to address complex economic, social and political problems. The prison industrial complex describes the overlapping interests of government and private industry in the criminal justice sector. G4S profits from government contracts in care and justice services.

G4S proudly claims to be “the world’s leading, global, integrated security company”. According to its 2016 annual report, the company boasts a massive £296 million profit before tax. The market dominance of G4S is perhaps surprising, given its long, tainted history of serious failings.

For the fourth consecutive year Reclaim Justice Network members attended the meeting, as shareholders, to challenge the board on the company’s record.

Extreme security

Airport-style security measures, intimidating and intrusive, have become routine at G4S annual meetings. All electronic devices, bags and accessories had to be removed and placed within a locker. Every shareholder was required to walk through a metal detector and then have their body scanned by a guard armed with an electromagnetic wand.

Uniformed G4S guards, and other staff identifiable by their blue lanyards, lined the walls and were strategically placed amid the rows of shareholder seats.

Once the meeting began it became clear that G4S personnel overwhelmingly outnumbered the independent shareholders in the room.

John Connolly, G4S chairman, opened the meeting, drew attention to the “meeting procedures” and warned that anyone who disrupted the meeting would be asked to leave. “Safety is incredibly important and is our number one priority,” he said.

What followed was a fine-tuned and polished performance of weaving evasiveness by chairman John Connolly and chief executive officer Ashley Almanza.


A question was posed concerning remuneration and awards to staff. Specifically, the performance-related pay awards given to the senior managers at Medway youth jail in April 2016 that amounted to between 10% and 25% of their annual salaries.

report by the Chief Inspector of Prisons concluded that “managerial oversight failed to protect young people” who suffered both physical and psychological abuse at the prison.

Almanza, who took home £4.8m in pay and perks last year, said that those directly involved with the abuse had been removed from their positions and subjected to a police investigation. However, he avoided commenting on the bonuses received by the senior managers whose failed oversight arguably put young people at risk of harm.

Revolving doors

Another question concerned G4S’s new recruit Paul Kempster — until recently a civil servant and “head of custodial contracts” for 12 UK prisons. The questioner wanted to know the time lapse between Kempster’s government job and the start of his contract at G4S.

Connolly and Almanza both hesitated to answer. They asked other members of staff and received confirmation that Kempster had “started fairly recently”. Connolly stepped in, saying: “I am sure that whatever is standard time lapse protocol has taken place.”

This is not the first time that government employees have been snapped up by G4S. The revolving door creates inevitable conflicts of interests in government decision making and increased interference of private companies in the public sector.

John Connolly, by the way, was formerly senior partner and chief executive at the big accountancy firm Deloitte’s where he trousered a £5m annual pay package just as the financial system came close to collapse.

Poor performance

Another questioner asked about faulty electronic monitoring equipmentadministered by G4S, that may have led to unwarranted enforcement action.

Almanza said the faulty batches were removed and “the client”, meaning the Ministry of Justice, was satisfied with this response, although no investigation into the consequences of this error was undertaken.

The shareholder then asked how many fines and penalties G4S has paid because of contractual failures, such as this. Almanza said he was “not at liberty to disclose”, there were confidentiality concerns, and he directed shareholders to “ask the client”.

This article is also published on OpenDemocracy.

Posted in G4S, Prison Profiteers

RJN News: May 2017

STOP G4S: Join us at the G4S AGM
Do you want to challenge G4S’ role in the criminal justice industry? We have five more shareholder places at the 2017 AGM taking place at the Holiday Inn London, Sutton on 25th May at 2pm.
Can you or any of your friends join us? Please get in touch with Sarah at and leave your name, address and phone number.
If you can’t make it – please send us your questions!
Campaign updates
Reclaim Justice Network has directly opposed the government’s construction of nine new prisons across England and Wales. New mega prisons are to be built in Port Talbot in South Wales, while HMP Hindley in Greater Manchester, HMP Rochester in Kent and HMP Full Sutton in East Yorkshire will be demolished and rebuilt at triple their size with 1,000 extra places.
Following the closure of HMP Holloway, Reclaim Justice Network are now working with other campaigners to build a broad-based, local campaign to ensure the site is protected for benefit of women, Londoners and the local community.
  • The Community Plan for Holloway project is keen to hear from local Islington residents for their views on the Holloway redevelopment through their new survey.
  • A local resident or community group who wants to hold a meeting on what should happen on the Holloway land? Please get in touch.
  • Find out more by watching interviews with Islington residents and Community Plan for Holloway here.
  • A new research project at the Open University wants to tell the stories of people who identify as lesbian/gay, bisexual, trans*, queer or intersex, and have served a prison sentence in a women’s prison in England, or have worked in a women’s prison as a prison officer.
  • Community Action on Prison Expansion have released the first No More Prisons podcast which asks how can we stop the new UK mega prisons
  • StopWatch have released a new publication Stop and Search: A Guide for Parents and Children and short film aimed at parents or guardians whose children have been stopped and searched, or who are concerned their children will be in the future. To order a copy of the guide e-mail
  • Black Lives Matter are hosting an open conversation on demands for black lives in the upcoming election | London, 27th May
  • Brighton Against Detention in collaboration with MARS are showing three films documenting detention in the UK, with ex-detainees from All African Women’s Group sharing their stories | Brighton, 19th May
In solidarity
Posted in Newsletters

G4S to be challenged on record for delivery of criminal justice services and commitment to human rights.


Reclaim Justice Network (1), who campaign for social justice, will be attending the G4S Annual General Meeting in Sutton, London on Thursday 25 May (2), to call for G4S to immediately withdraw all criminal justice services in the UK. This represents the fourth consecutive year that Network shareholders will be asking G4S board members questions about their record in delivering Care & Justice services, which includes (3):

  • Custody, detention and rehabilitation
  • Electronic monitoring
  • Secure health
  • Forensic medical and police support
  • Secure transport

A shareholder report will subsequently be produced by the Reclaim Justice Network, with details of the meeting and the G4S board responses (4).


(1) Reclaim Justice Network is a collaboration of individuals, advocacy groups, practitioners, researchers and people most directly affected by criminal justice systems, who are working together to radically reduce the size and scope of criminal justice systems and to build effective and socially just alternatives. Learn more at

(2) Annual General Meeting of G4S plc will be held at the Holiday Inn London Sutton, Gibson Road, Sutton, Surrey SM1 2RF on Thursday, 25 May 2017 at 2.00pm. Full details of the meeting can be found here

(3)  As laid out in the G4S Annual Report 2016 – Page 3

(4) To read reports from previous Reclaim Justice Network shareholder actions, click here

(5) For further information e-mail or call 07968950223


Posted in G4S, Press releases

Public Meeting about the new prison in Rochester 27/04/2017


When: Thursday April 27th 2017,  7 – 9pm

Where: Rochester Community Hub, Eastgate, ME1 1EW

Why:  The government has announced plans to build six new mega-prisons in England and Wales, creating at least 10,000 new prison allocations.

One of those sites will be in Rochester, replacing the Young Offenders Institution currently on the site located next to HMP Cookham Wood.

The development is part of the government’s £1.3 billion Prison Estate Transformation programme.

We want to talk about what can be done to challenge this new prison in Rochester. All are welcome!

Posted in Events and Meetings, No More Prison

RJN News: March 2017

Campaign updates
Reclaim Justice Network has directly opposed the government’s ‘prison building revolution’, and the construction of nine new prisons across England and Wales. The government has recently announced the four new prison sites earmarked for expansion. A brand new mega prison will be built in Port Talbot in South Wales, while HMP Hindley in Greater Manchester, HMP Rochester in Kent and HMP Full Sutton in East Yorkshire will be demolished and rebuilt at approximately triple their size with 1,000 extra places.
Against these plans too?
STOP G4S: Do you want to get involved in the 2017 G4S shareholder action?
Members of the Reclaim Justice Network will be attending G4S’ AGM as shareholders on 25th May (venue TBD) to question the Board on their role in criminal justice industry.
  • Are you interested in becoming a shareholder and joining us in holding G4S to account? Just send your full name and address to and we will transfer a single share into your name.
  • If you cannot become a shareholder but would like Reclaim Justice Network to ask the G4S Board a question on your behalf, please e-mail us!
  • Read our reports from the AGMs over the last three years: 2016 report, 2015 report and 2014.
Following the closure of HMP Holloway, Reclaim Justice Network are now working closely with the Reclaim Holloway coalition to build a broad-based, local campaign to ensure the site is protected for benefit of women, Londoners and the local community.
In solidarity.
Posted in Newsletters

Campaigners blockade Charter Flight

Last night, activists from a coalition of migrant solidarity groups blockaded a charter flight leaving for Nigeria and Ghana.

The campaigners from End Deportations, Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants (LGSMigrants) and Plane Stupid say this is the first time this kind of direct action has stopped a mass deportation charter flight.

The activists held up ‘No One Is Illegal’ banners as they camped out on the runway to stop the flight. The blockade was live-streamed on Stop Charter Flights’ Facebook Page.

The campaigners point to statements made on the website Detained Voices that detail some of the threats faced by those being removed on the Charter Flight.

One woman on the flight said: “My ex-husband said he knows I am being deported. He is waiting for me. He is planning to kill me. If he kills me- who will look after my children?”

Another male deportee said: “I have been in this country for almost 18 years. My family and my life is here in the UK. If they take me back to Ghana I will kill myself.”

Charter Flights are specially commissioned flights used to remove people under the cover of darkness to Pakistan, Albania, Nigeria, Ghana, and Jamaica. Charter Flights

Reclaim Justice Network wishes to express solidarity with those threatened by charter flights and the campaigners resisting the flights. We hope it sparks a critical debate about mass removals, the immigration detention system and racist state violence more widely.


Posted in Immigration detention