John Bowden: Americanisation of the British Criminal Justice System

A recent Government announcement that it was considering introducing U.S. style prison sentences like a hundred years custody for the most serious offences is on one level a straightforward attempt to undermine a recent European Court of Human Rights ruling that life sentence prisoners should be given some hope that their sentences will be reviewed before they die, and on another level evidence that the Americanisation of the British criminal justice system continues to increase and deepen.

Apart from the probable introduction of prison sentences that are in effect a slow form of capital punishment, an American penology has characterised the treatment of British prisoners for quite some time in the form of the treatment model with its psychology-based programmes and courses designed and inspired by Canadian and U.S. ideologies regarding “offending behaviour”, which is attributed not so much to social andenvironmental causes but more the individual pathology of the “offender”. So the fact that the prison population is drawn disproportionately from the poorest and most disadvantaged group in society is of absolutely no significance and instead a crude behaviourist notion prevails that providing prisoners can be re-socialised into behaving in a “normal” way then “offending behaviour” can be exorcised from their thinking before they’re released back into the same desperate economic and social circumstances.

Predictably, the” treatment model” with its programmes and courses has had absolutely no appreciable effect on recidivism rates.

As in American prisons, prison-hired psychologists in Britain have carved out a veritable industry for themselves in the prison system by subscribing to the belief that inequality, disadvantage and poverty have absolutely nothing to do with why most people end up in prison and instead everything to do with individual pathology in the form of inherent personality disorders and an inability to distinguish right from wrong. And again as in the U.S. prison psychologists in Britain have now become an integral part of the system of control and repression in prisons, legitimising it with a language and narrative of “treatment” and addressing prisoner’s “needs and risks”. So entrenched have psychologists now become in the prison system that, like their American counterparts, they often willingly assist in the use of the worst forms of repression against prisoners labelled the most “difficult” and “unmanageable”.

American prison officials penchant for euphemisms to disguise the reality of it’s worst practices and forms of punishment, such as “special management units” where in fact prisoners are clinically isolated and psychologically brutalised, is a tendency that finds expression in British prisons also now. “Close Supervision Units” and “Intensive Intervention Units”, overseen and managed by both jail managers and psychologists, are also places where “difficult” prisoners are subjected to extreme punishment and a denial of basic human rights, often to the extent where many are driven to insanity.

The American “treatment model” of prisons probably finds it’s most extreme expression in the U.K. Prison system in the from of the “Dangerous Personality Disorder Units” (DPDU) created and overseen by psychologists from the psychopath-spotter school of psychology that defines all “anti-social” behaviour on the part of the least powerful and wealthy as symptomatic of psychopathy. In the totalitarian world of prison either fighting the system or confronting the institutionalised abuse of power that prevails there is sufficient to have oneself labelled a “psychopath” by psychologists anchored mind, body and soul to the prison system. In the case of life sentence prisoners such psychologists now have the power to decide if they’re sufficiently risk-free to be released.

It is not just within the prison system that the American influence is apparent, it’s also recognizable in the radically changed role of probation officers and criminal justice system social workers from what was traditionally “client-centred” liberal occupations to a overtly “public protection” centred extension of the police and prison system. Now a closer equivalent of the American parole officer, probation officers and criminal justice system social workers in the U.K. now see their role as one of policing parolees or “offenders” on supervision orders and returning them to jail for the slightest technical breach of their licence conditions. The massive increase in the use of community supervision orders as a from of social control has created a veritable ghetto of marginalised people in poorer communities who exist constantly in the shadow of imprisonment and omnipotent power of their supervision officers. This mirrors what has been taking place in some U.S. states as the global economic crisis has virtually eradicated legitimate employment in poor communities and replaced it with an alternative economy of illegal drugs, resulting in the almost mass criminalisation of young working class men, especially those from poor Afro-American communities. In such U.S. states and deprived communities prisons now replace factories where the new underclass are increasingly concentrated and forced to work as cheap labour for multinational private security corporations that now own and operate a significant portion of the American prison system. This new prison industrial complex is laying roots in the U.K. too and it is from the poorest de-industrialised communities that it draws its sources of cheap labour and human commodities.

This U.S. cultural influence on the criminal justice system is far greater in the U.K. than anywhere else in Europe, which accounts for it having the largest prison population in Europe and the longest prison sentences. It is also forever vulnerable to the American style prison riot when despair and hopelessness overshadows prisoners lives completely and there is essentially nothing left to lose. As a model of either justice or retribution the American criminal justice system is riddled with corruption and failure, and yet Britain slavishly attempts to imitate it in its quest to achieve absolute social control at a time when the lives of the poor are being made increasingly unendurable and society continues to fracture and polarise.

John Bowden
February 2014
HMP Shotts

G20 American Extraditees

Support US activists extradited to Canada and imprisoned for charges stemming from the Toronto G20 in June 2010. For more background information, click here.

Legal Update:

Kevin Chianella

February 13th– Kevin plead guilty to 16 charges (originally facing 53 counts) and will do 24 months in a penitentiary, the only G20 prisoner to be sentenced to such a place. Kevin did not receive any restitution because of his financial circumstances. He is currently at Metro West but will likely be transported to a federal facility in the near future. Stay posted for an address change.

Kevin Chianella
Toronto West Detention Center
111 Disco Rd. Box 4950
Rexdale, Ontario
M9W 5L6

Joel Bitar

February 13th– Joel plead guilty to 12 counts of mischief over $5000 (originally facing 26 counts) and will do 20 months in a provincial jail. Joel also did not receive any restitution because of his financial circumstances.

Joel Bitar
Toronto West Detention Center
111 Disco Rd. Box 4950
Rexdale, Ontario
M9W 5L6

Richard Morano

February 3rd– Richard plead to 6 counts (originally facing 14) and received 7 months in jail plus $3,000 in restitution and is banned from Toronto during his two-year probation. Morano was ordered to pay Staff Sgt. Queen $1,000 in restitution and $500 each to CIBC, Tim Hortons, American Apparel and All Leather. The Crown attorney originally asked for 12-15 months.

Richard Morano
Toronto West Detention Center
111 Disco Rd. Box 4950
Rexdale, Ontario
M9W 5L6

Bristol ABC’s Solidarity Statement for the Blackmail 3

Bristol ABC stand in solidarity with Debbie, Natasha and Sven as three more compassionate people that have experienced state violence for standing up for the 500 animals that are murdered in Huntingdon Life Sciences every day.

The Blackmail 3 are the latest in a line of people facing trial for their role in Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC). SHAC was a global campaign successfully bringing Europe’s largest contract animal testing company to its knees. It has faced significant repression with multiple raids, arrests, trials and imprisonment of its organisers.

Bristol ABC have committed to supporting Bristol-based defendant Debbie financially, emotionally and politically through her trial. We commend her courage and conviction during this challenging period and stand in solidarity with anyone harmed by the state past or future for fighting for animal liberation.

“Prison united all of us”

Interview with anarchist prisoners in the so-called “Bolotnaya Case”, former sailor Alexei Polikhovich, 22 (pictured), and historian Stepan Zimin, 21. They are amongst the many people charged with participation in the May 6, 2012 clashes with police during an opposition rally in Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square. Both face a sentence of five-and-a-half year in penal colony, having spent over a year in pre-trial detention.

Excert from an article by Yulia Polukhina, Novaya Gazeta newspaper, Januray 24, 2014. The questions, same for all interviewees, were passed to the detainees via their lawyers.

Q: You have unwillingly became a defendant in a political trial. Did you have pronounced political views before? Have they changed after you were imprisoned?

Polikhovich: I am a libertarian socialist. This is rather a social philosophy, a worldview rather than political view. A libertarian wants to build a new society on the principles of free union, equality, self-administration, federalism, respect for an individual, co-operation rather than rivalry. A libertarian would not be making electoral pledges, or fight for a position in the parliament or in a government. A libertarian’s fight is for the people of the whole world – in the streets of Athens and Barcelona, Mexico City and Lima, and not in the corridors and lobbies of power. A libertarian is the most consistent opponent of a Nazi and an authoritarian communist, of a religious fundamentalist and of an exporter of ultra-liberal democracy, an enemy of hierarchies, verticals, dogmas, institutions of oppression, prisons. A libertarian is, without a doubt, an opponent of our main prison, which was described by Max Stirner: “Every state is a tyranny, be that a tyranny of one person or a tyranny of the many… The state seeks to hinder every free activity by its censorship, its supervision, its police, and holds this hindering to be its duty, because it is in truth a duty of self-preservation.” The latter is particularly true in today’s Russia.

Zimin: I am an adherent of anarcho-communist, anti-fascist views. Although for me they are life’s principles rather than rigid frames of ideology. The best expression of the main point and essence of anarchism was made by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his tiny essay ["Discourse on Inequality"]: “The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying This is mine, and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows: Beware of listening to this imposter; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.”
It is a huge mistake to think that anarchism is general chaos, lawlessness, the final result of which is Hobbes’ war “of every man, against every man”. In fact, it pursues the aim of building a society based on mutual aid and solidarity of all of its members, regardless of gender, race and religious creed.

Q: Why do you think the trial’s most important part was hidden away to the Zamoskvoretsky Court, away from the large hall of the Moscow City Court and then from the large hall of the Nikulinsky Court?

Polikhovich: After the charges against four out of twelve defendants were dropped [in the December 2013 amnesty] ourselves and our lawyers can physically fit into the small hall of the Zamoskvoretsky Court. In her own domain [judge] Natalya Viktorovna [Nikishina] can find it easier to control the events, the final game will be played in her field.

Zimin: I do not think it is directly connected to the sentencing. It’s just that the number of defendant has noticeably dropped, a small courthouse in central Moscow is much more convenient than Nikulinsky, the journey to which takes up a long time. Seeing that the trial lasts for eight months already, and we leave at six in the morning and return in a prison van after midnight, it is now easier to reach the trial courthouse, simply on everyday level.

Q: Do you have a sense of moral victory?

Polikhovich: I don’t feel anything of the sort.

Zimin: I feel moral victory not so much due to transfer of the trial from one courthouse to another (after all, it only changed the surroundings), but rather because the court investigation has finished, and after hearing all the arguments of the prosecution, I am once again convinced of our innocence. In all the time that I was listening to the compositions by the so-called “victims” and their colleagues who served as witnesses, watching video recordings, I had the same thought: so who really has to sit in this aquarium?

Q: Some of the “Bolotnaya Case” folks were amnestied; when they were released in the courthouse, you celebrated that as though they were your relatives. Now some time has passed. What do you feel for the amnestied people?

Polikhovich: We had a laugh over this question. Does it assume that now, after some time has passed, we are supposed to have changed our attitude? I am sincerely happy for Masha [Baronova], Kolya [Kavkazsky], Lyonya [Kovyazin] and Vova [Akimenkov], especially for the latter. This trial has made us close, and I think we would never lose touch.

Zimin: On the day that they were released in the courthouse, there was a feeling as though you are getting released yourself. The sense of pride in them cannot be honestly put into words! And how could I not be happy for the people who were in handcuffs next to me in the morning, and were free by the evening. You know, back in the day, Leon Trotsky wrote: “Prison united all of us.” I think that these words can be well applied to our situation. You can’t say it in a better way.

Q: Do you think of what the sentence might be, what do you expect, do you believe that it can at least partly depend on the lawyers’ work and on your position?

Polikhovich: I try not to hope and not to expect anything. I am prepared for any outcome. I think that the main conceptual decision on us will be made by the top officials but within that conception of the sentence there can be some variations, some individual approach. The lawyers have done a lot to dispel illusions concerning fairness of our prosecution, and for seven months they have been proving the invalidity, absurdity and biased nature of the charges, I am very grateful to them. We will find out very shortly whether their work has made any difference to the final outcome.

Zimin: The main thing that depends on my position in court is my attitude towards myself. We made the entire journey from arrest to the sentencing, and I think that each one of us has come to the conclusion that Russia’s law-enforcement system (like all other similar systems) is far from perfection, to say the least. Half of all norms in the Criminal Code and in the Criminal Procedure Code are violated or not fulfilled.
Under such conditions, our lawyers have to be greatly thanked for expertly and consistently defending us under the conditions of abuse we are subjected to. As for the sentence, whatever happens, in the end it will all be good, we will keep on fighting. No pasaran!

Stepan Zimin

Addresses of Stepan and Alexei. Note that these 2 prisons do not admit letters in English, so translate your text (f.e. with google translate or other similar program) before sending, or pass postcards and photos).

Alexey Polikhovich Alexey Alexeevich Polikhovich, 1990 g.r. FKU SIZO-2 UFSIN Rossii po g. Moskve ul. Novoslobodskaya d. 45 127055 Moskva Russia

Stepan Zimin Stepan Yurevich Zimin 1992 g.r., FKU SIZO-5 (Vodnik) UFSIN Rossii po g. Moskve, Vyborskaya 20, 125130 Moskva Russia

Alexandra Dukhanina: “There were only blatant lies and brute force”

Final court statement of anarchist Alexandra Dukhanina (Naumova), charged with violence against police during an opposition rally in Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square on May 6, 2012, made in a Moscow court on February 5, 2014.

At first I thought that this entire case is some sort of mad mistake and nonsense. But now, after listening to the speeches by prosecutors and after finding out what are the imprisonment terms that they demanded for all of us, I realized that they take revenge on all of us. They take revenge because we’ve been there and we saw how it was all really happening. Who provoked the crushing, how the people were being beaten, the unjustified cruelty. They take revenge on us because we did not cave in to them and did not admit our non-existent guilt. Neither during investigation nor during the trial. They also take revenge because I did not help them with their lies and refused to answer their questions.

It must be some weighty thing that I’m guilty of, and it deserves to be punished with six years in a penal colony. There weren’t any other ones worthy of such punishment, just we are left: they are afraid of real criminals, the strangers who stood in their way were imprisoned, and they aren’t touching any of their own. It is up to you, your honour, to decide how to help them become more happy at the expense of our fates, how they can get new appointments, ranks and awards.
But, after all, why six years? What are the “at least eight aimed throws” that I made? Where did they come from? Who was I aiming at and whom did I hit? At eight different police officers? Or eight times at the two police officers that I was charged with attacking? If so, how many times, and which of them? Where are the answers to all these questions? After all, they should first give detailed descriptions and proof, and only then imprison – after all, it’s six years of life, it’s no laughing matter. But now it doesn’t even look like a lie, it’s lying demagoguery without facts, and playing with people’s lives. What if they had 188 videos, not eight, would they have then said that I made 188 throws?

There are two OMON riot police officers whom I subjected to violence, you’d seen them. They are twice of thrice as big as I am, and they also wore body armour. One of them did not feel anything at all, the other one was not harmed by me and made no claim against me. Is that the mass rioting and violence that I’m supposed to be imprisoned for for six years?

Oh, I forgot about the kvass – the bottle alone is worth five years, and eight targeted throws may account for the remaining year. Now they should tell me that, at least I will know the price of kvass. And can they also tell me, where do my mass disorders start and end and where does violence against officers start? And what is the difference between these two things? I somehow did not understand: what arson? Attacks? Destruction of property? And where am I in all of that? What was I breaking? What did I set on fire? What did I destroy? With whom did I set up a conspiracy? What proves any of that? In short, do I get four years under Article 212 [of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, dealing with mass rioting] simply for being there? So, my presence at an originally peaceful rally is my mass rioting that I took part in? There’s nothing else apart from that!

Look at these people. They are not murderers, thieves or fraudsters. Imprisoning us all would be not just unfair, it would be mean.

Many people have suggested that I confess, apologize, say what the investigators wanted to hear, but you know, I don’t find it necessary to apologize to these people. It is a custom in this country that [law-enforcement officers] are absolutely untouchable, although there are many reported cases of them running protection rackets for drug dealers, prostitution, rape. Recently there was a case like that in Lipetsk Region.

The contents of the charges made against all of us are not just ridiculous, it is absurd and is only based on OMON riot police officers’ statements. So what do we have here, if a person has epaulets, he is a priori honest and holy?
Your honour, in the eight months of this trial you have received from defence enough proof of all of us being innocent, so if you sent us to a [prison] camp, you will cripple lives and fates for nothing!

Do the authorities want so badly to show how we are being punished that they are ready for such a thing? To give a suspended sentence to an official, a rapist or a police officer for [indiscernible] is normal: they are the untouchable, they are one of your own. But we can languish in prison – after all, who are we, we aren’t even rich. But for some reason I am sure that even in prison I will be more free than many of them, because I have clear conscience, and those who will stay free, continuing with their so-called defence of order and freedom, will live in an eternal cage with their accomplices.

I can admit my mistakes, and if by truth and facts I could be told and persuaded that I did something illegal, I would have admitted that. But no-one has ever explained anything: there were only blatant lies and brute force. By force they can strangle, carry… [indiscernible], and it was all done to me. But by force or lies you cannot prove anything. And no-one proved any of my guilt. I am certain that I am right and innocent.

I would like to finish with a quote from “Tale of Cipollino” by Gianni Rodari:
“- My poor father! You have been banged up like a criminal, with thieves and bandits.
- What are you talking about, son, – his father interrupted him. – There are lots of honest people in prison!
- But why are they locked up? What were the bad things that they did?
- Exactly nothing, son. That’s why they’ve been locked up. Prince Lemon does not like decent people.
- So, to be in prison is big honour? – he asked.
- So it turns out. Prisons were built for those who steal and kill, but under Prince Lemon’s rule everything is the other way around, thieves and murderers are in his palace, and honest people are in prison.”

More on Alexandra Dukhanina:

Online petiton for John Bowden

To the Parole Board for England and Wales, and the Scottish Prison Service: Release John Bowden!


Click here to sign the petition

This is a petiton on behalf of long-term prison resister John Bowden about his ongoing struggle with the Parole Board. They decided recently that just because he is critical of the prison system and does not toe the Prison Service line he should continue to be incarcerated, well beyond his original tariff period.

See this link for an article written by John about his parole hearing:

 To the Parole Board for England and Wales, and the Scottish Prison Service,

 We wish to register our concern about the treatment of John Bowden who is clearly being held in jail at the moment as a form of preventive detention and not for any legitimate reason associated with genuine risk to the community or real belief in his propensity to commit crime. We feel that because of John’s association with attempts to expose and highlight abuses of power within the prison system and wider criminal justice system he has been targeted for victimisation and his continued detention is an example of that. At two successive parole hearings to review his continued detention in 2011 and 2013 no evidence what so ever was presented to suggest that John was continuing to be held in jail for reasons of “public protection” or that the focus of his struggle was anything other than the abuse of state power in the treatment of prisoners or ex-prisoners being “supervised” in the community.

Following his 2013 parole hearing John was informed by both the Parole Board and the prison authorities that unless he stopped publicly exposing abuses of power by prison and criminal justice system officials his release from jail would be prevented. John’s continued detention therefore is of itself a blatant abuse of state power.

 The use of preventive detention to punish and silence legitimate complaint is a clear abuse of human rights and we wish to make it absolutely clear that we intend to highlight John’s situation at every opportunity and in every possible way.


Tenth Annual Anarchist Bookfair in Zagreb