In March 2016 the Emty Cages Collective facilitated workshops on the prison industrial complex (PIC) in the UK focusing mainly on the Scottish context and the exponential rate of prison expansion hitting the UK at the moment.

The workshops lead to fruitful discussions about the intersecting ways prisons oppress people on the grounds of class, race, gender, sexual orientation, age, ability and more. In Scotland a third of the prison population have been through the care system, 90% have a mental illness (compared to 25% of the wider population) and 11% of young women and 22% of young men have basic literacy problems. The vast majority of those doing time in Scottish prisons are there for non-violent offences such as shoplifting or drugs. 96% of those in Scottish prisons are there for non-violent crimes and almost half were drunk at the time of committing the offence they were incarcerated for. Mental health issues are a normal reaction to a capitalist society, and without proper support people are self-medicating with drink and drugs which, in turn, leads to further social problems and incarceration.
The day I arrived in Edinburgh I heard that there had been a mass blockade by people when the UK Border Force, facilitated by Scottish Police. A survivor of sexual violence had been dawn raided and taken to Cedars, a prison for children and their families going through the asylum system. I heard how the authorities had used force against the 14 year old child, and also had broken the mother’s ankle in the raid. People from Glasgow to London took action in tandem against this violent imprisonment and removal of this mother and child. Thankfully she was safely returned home some days later from the detention centre.

Shotts-jailThis had all occurred on Monday, when I arrived in Edinburgh on the first day of the info tour. It was reminiscent of so many other fights to keep people in their communities in south Wales, where I live. It was inspiring to see so many people take action against this injustice, despite the sadness of learning this family’s story and what they had been put through.

The event in Edinburgh was in Solidarity with the incarcerated anarchists in the Czech Republic. Operation Phoenix was carried out by Czech police against the anarchists there, after a series of successful direct mass actions and also some underground attacks on the property of capitalists that was claimed by insurrectionist anarchist groups. It was inspiring to see this small group of these Czech anarchists based in Edinburgh standing in solidarity with their comrades. They had done an info-tour across the UK, talking about what had happened, published a zine and were sharing and translating information about this repression on a website as well as organising the event the Empty Cages Workshop hosted at their event “Solidarity 4 Ever”.

The workshop included discussions on the anti-psychiatry movement, class and prison and how community groups were using forced labour through “community service” from groups that do refugee solidarity work to environmental groups. Such seemingly “progressive” projects should know better than to ignore the way the prison system and the PIC harms us. Emerging from the discussions was the idea of a campaign to boycott these groups that use the forced labour of criminalised young people and adults forced to work through “community service”.

The next day in Aberdeen – a member of Aberdeen Afed and president of the student left society at Aberdeen University hosted the workshop. It was well attended by students and members of Aberdeen IWW and following the info-tour a new prison was announced in the nearby town of Inverness – there is significant resistance to this prison being built.

The next and final date of the tour was Glasgow. There I heard how prisoners are made to grow vegetables on farms – local grocers sell them in the city. As well as a drive to re-start the Glasgow Anarchist Black Cross group, a campaign against this use of prison slave labour seemed to have emerged from the discussions at the workshop. In addition to this the campaign to close immigration removal prisons (detention centres) was discussed. There is only one in Scotland – Dunravel, and it will be targeted as part of a Europe-wide day of action against UK detention centres on May the 7th.


That was the info-tour. We have kept in contact with those comrades we met – many came to the Women and Trans* Week of Action Against the PIC. We hope to continue to support the effort to end the PIC in Scotland however we can, and stand in solidarity with their actions on the 7th of May to end detention.