We call this day of action on Monday 27th April to demand the release of incarcerated women and those held in women’s prisons, noting the cis-supremacy of the prison system that misgenders incarcerated non binary and trans people. Covid-19 is spreading through prisons and detention centres, exacerbated by insufficient hygiene and social distancing measures. At least 15 incarcerated people have already been killed by Covid-19 in prisons across England and Wales, including one woman: the true number is likely to be much higher than official statistics. Yarl’s Wood Immigration Detention Centre has known cases of Covid-19, but the people detained there are not able to socially distance.
Prison abolition is, and always has been, a feminist struggle.
People are being locked in for 23.5 hours a day. This constitutes solitary confinement, as defined by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture. This inhumane treatment is having a grave impact on those with pre-existing mental health problems. The situation is particularly serious in the women’s estate. According to the NGO Women in Prison, the women’s estate constitutes 5% of incarcerated people and 18% of recorded self harm incidents in the year ending September 2019.
Many of those held in women’s prisons are survivors of violence: according to Women in Prison, 7 in 10 have been a victim of domestic violence and over fifty per cent were abused as children. Many experience further abuse while incarcerated, including trans women held in unsafe conditions at men’s prisons. Incarcerated women, trans, non-binary and intersex people are being punished by a system built on the back of their exploitation: a system which disproportionately punishes poor and working class, black, brown, trans, disabled and migrant women.
To safely stop the spread of Covid-19, we must release all imprisoned people so that they can socially distance. Plans for the early release of some incarcerated people are insufficient to stop the spread of Covid-19 in the prison estate, and even this promise has already been broken. As of 7th April, only 6 pregnant people had been released: even less than the meagre promise made by the government to release 30 pregnant people. This is unacceptable, according to the prison services’ own dangerously inadequate measures. Supposed plans for the release of ‘low risk’ prisoners will be processed through assessments that systematically advantage white people over black and brown people and adhere to racist narratives that assume risk is a static fact within a person. Being selective in who receives this extra punishment of being infected by COVID-19 is nothing short of inhumane, and will be ineffective in fighting the spread of the virus inside and outside the prison and detention systems.
During this public health crisis, we need more than ever to provide humane solutions over criminalisation. We cannot continue to condemn people to death by holding them in prisons and detention centres. Instead, we must build the communities that are needed to support ourselves and one another. Echoing the feminist collective, Survived and Punished- we need: “funding for housing and non-coercive healing resources e.g. physical health services, trauma informed counselling, substance use support, so all people have immediate and stable housing options and access to holistic, restorative care upon release.”
Now is the time for strong communities, not cages.
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@RobertBuckland, as a feminist I am calling on you to release women & others incarcerated in women’s prisons urgently. Already at least 15 have been killed. Will you have more blood on your hands? #Release2SaveLives #CareNotCages
@RobertBuckland @MoJGovUK Women in prison are being locked up for 23.5 hours a day. This is solitary confinement, as defined by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture. You can’t self isolate in prison! Free them all now! #Release2SaveLives #CareNotCages
@RobertBuckland @MoJGovUK As of 7th April, 6 pregnant people had been released from prison, even after the government promised to release 30. Inaction is unacceptable! Release all those inside immediately so that they can socially distance. #Release2SaveLives #CareNotCages
@RobertBuckland @MoJGovUK Plans to release only ‘low risk’ prisoners adhere to racialised criteria which are more likely to categorise white women as low risk than women of colour. We need humane solutions not further criminalisation. #Release2SaveLives #CareNotCages
@RobertBuckland @10downingstreet We demand funding for survivors to access housing and non-coercive healing resources e.g. healthcare, trauma-informed counselling & and substance use support, which can’t be accessed in prison #Release2SaveLives #CareNotCages
Sample Facebook and Instagram Message (don’t forget to tag him too!)
Dear Robert Buckland,
I am writing to demand you take urgent action to immediately free all women and other people held inside women’s prisons in the UK, noting the cisgender norms enforced by the prison system that misgenders incarcerated non binary and trans people. Covid-19 is spreading rapidly within prison populations, endangering the lives of many. There have been hundreds of confirmed cases in prison and 15 incarcerated people have already been killed by the virus. The true number of cases and covid-related deaths in prison is likely much higher given the widespread lack of testing that has been undertaken by prison authorities. This cannot be considered anything other than state-sanctioned murder. The measures currently being taken to limit the spread of the virus within UK prison populations are both insufficient and inhumane.
There is no way to effectively enact social distancing within prisons and detention centres. Removing visitation rights whilst prison officers and staff still move freely to and from prison sites is proof the Ministry of Justice is using covid-19 as an excuse to exercise even further carceral control, while not taking actual steps to prevent the spread of the virus. Denying incarcerated people the ability to protect their health and save their lives is effectively condeming them to torture through isolation and solitary confinement. The impact of such extreme isolation on mental health is particularly acute on the women’s estate where, according to the NGO women in prison, 18% of recorded self harm incidents occurred in the year ending September 2019, despite only accounting for 5% of incarcerated people. You and your colleagues in the Ministry of Justice are responsible for further loss of life.
In this current pandemic, releasing people to their loved ones, communities of support, housing and non-coercive healing resources (such as physical health services, trauma informed counselling, substance use support) is the only humane solution. Ensuring appropriate funding to make this material support possible is urgent.
You must take action before more are killed.