Monday, 28 December 2009

This weeks’ news – President spends Christmas in prison, Corporate abuse of the libel law, Trippy Skippy and Breckenridge decriminalises pot.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf chose to spend Christmas in the Bella Yalla prison which was used by former dictator Samuel Doe to incarcerate, torture and murder political prisoners.

Tzipi Livni, the former Israeli Foreign Secretary heavily implicated in the War Crimes in Gaza had to abort her visit to London recently as a Magistrate issued an arrest warrant. Apparently this attempt to use the criminal justice system to hold someone to account for the minor matter of war crimes has provoked abject apologies from the British Government who have promised to instead focus on serious crimes like young people wearing hoodies.

A really sad story, Erin Marcove, a long time medical marijuana supporter who had used the drug for chronic back pain most of her life killed herself on 12th December. It appears that her 3 year old grandson got access to her cookies and when he couldn’t be roused the next day was taken to hospital where tests identified that he had cannabis in his blood. Prosecutors were pushing charges on the long term campaigner and she responded by killing herself. So sad and unnecessary.

I remember a visitor to my house when I was a student stupidly left his lump of dope on the floor. After a futile 30 minute search we noticed Scooby, the dog was deeply asleep with a curious grin on his face. Mystery solved!

Cannabis is a remarkably untoxic drug and unlike alcohol or paracetamol substantial overdoses have no long term effects. Scooby was back to his normal self the next day and I am glad to see Erin’s grandson has also made a full recovery.

Large Corporations have a shameful record of trying to silence critics through legal bullying. Another example this month is General Electric (GE) whose UK subsidiary GE Healthcare is suing in London a Danish radiologist, Henrik Thomsen, who raised concerns over one of their drugs. London is the favourite place for the rich to use the increased compliant courts to bully those who question them or threatened their interest. The impact of cases like this is very serious for academics. The legal costs involved in a case are normally over £1,000,000 which is highly affordable to a rich corporation but potentially financial ruin for an academic. The result is that most academics do not dare question big pharma or other corporate groups. As a result considerable harm is done by dodgy drugs or other corporate crime. However recently Jack Straw has promised to review Britain’s libel laws to stop the abuse of libel tourism.

As Paul Flynn, the Labour MP, has pointed out, “It is a scandal that a company should take action against someone acting in the interests of patients.” In this case a court approved scandal!

The malicious influence of business interests is illustrated by this report in The Herald claiming minimum alcohol prices are unlikely to reduce drinking. Their source is Tim Wilson, an Industry insider with close (and profitable) links to the alcohol industry. His evidence that minimum pricing will not work, despite considerable evidence that it does work, is based on a questionnaire. Questionnaires are always dependant on respondent’s honesty, which for questions relating to sex, smoking and drinking are notoriously unreliable, when asking for people to report past behaviour. However when asking about future behaviour they tend to reflect what people want to happen rather than what will actually occur. So any research on the impact of minimum pricing that relies on questionnaires is likely entirely unreliable! However this is even worse it claims that a significant proportion of people would respond by making a ‘simply switch to a cheaper alternative’. The point of minimum pricing is of course to remove this possibility!! Must not be too hard on Mr Wilson, his alcohol pushing clients do pay well for this rubbish.

Meanwhile it has been announced that Crimewatch’s first case has been solved 26 years later without any help from the famous programme.

A Church of England Vicar is in hot water from suggesting that shoplifting from large corporations may sometimes be OK. Not so says a moral philosopher in the Times. However I will leave the comment to George Bernard Shaw from his Introduction to the Webb’s 1922 History of the English local prison
The thief who is in prison is not necessarily more dishonest than his fellows at large, but mostly one who, through ignorance or stupidity steals in a way that is not customary. He snatches a loaf from the baker's counter and is promptly run into gaol.
Another man snatches bread from the table of hundreds of widows and orphans and similar credulous souls who do not know the ways of company promoters; and, as likely as not, he is run into Parliament.
The Daily Mail reveals ten Met police officers have failed drug tests.

One of my constant interventions on discussion boards has been to stress the difference between criminals and prisoners. Common sense would suggest that they are the same but in fact many of us commit crime but only a select few are criminalised and end up in prison. Those who do end up in prison tend to be characterised by their powerless, vulnerability and social exclusion rather than their criminality. Increasingly evidence has highlighted the massive over representation of people with learning difficulties, mental health problems and the educational disadvantaged in our prisons. The Guardian has carried a story claiming that about 20% of prisoners have ADHD. I am trying to get hold of the research this article is based on.

But what about killers and rapists my reactionary friends demand when I advocate the abolition of prison - surely they are exactly who we are locking up in jail? Well no, as a recent report has highlight police investigations of rape are characterised by incompetence and a failure of duty towards victims. Likewise the killing of an employee by Daylesford organics due to their totally failure to follow basic health and safety laws has not resulted in the farms owners Sir Anthony and Lady Carole Bamford. They were fined £75,000 at the hearing which neither could be bothered to attend. Well it was only staff.

However Nick Cohen has argued in the Guardian that the low conviction rates for rape is down to juries not the police or courts.

David Archer, ‘Britain’s worst shoplifter’ has been jailed again. That should work!

An interesting account of delivering library services in a prison can be read here.

The New York Times ran an interesting article on the way the war on drugs is racist in practice. Whites Smoke Pot, but Blacks Are Arrested is well worth reading.

Australia has a large and thriving opium industry but its poppy fields have been suffering crop circles. Are they a hoax or evidence of Aliens? Nope just some stoned wallabies.

An excellent article on the politics of crime control in Canada in the week’s Economist. Equally applicable to the UK.

A Massachusetts prisoner who showed enterprise and considerable computer skills has been sentenced to a further 18 months in prison and a ban from using computers for three years after his arrest. His offence using a computer in prison specifically designed to only allow access the prison’s legal research application to access e-mail and all the prison’s records. His talent really should have been appreciated and found a positive use.

Apparently the Italian Mafia have arrived in London. Bit slow of them, the rest of international organised crime has been using London as their favourite money laundering capital of the world. As I blogged previously it has been claimed that drugs money not Brown saved the world during the recent financial crisis.

The New York Times is supporting an attempt by Representative Robert Scott to pass legislation removing many of the hurdles placed in the way of prisoners who want to seek legal redress for illegal treatment in prison. Whilst in London the prison inspectorate has highlighted ‘high levels of force’ at Bellmarsh Prison.

Last year there were 648 murders in England and Wales, a twenty year low. However in 2008 over two and half thousand people dies on our roads. Since 1999 a total of 32,298 people have died on Britain’s roads. The BBC has just released a map of all 32.298 fatalities – it makes grim reading. [More on murder statistics in future blogs]

And lastly a blast from the past, Rosie’s Boycott’s famous editorial in the Independent on Sunday calling for the decriminalisation of cannabis – relevant because the good citizens of Breckenridge, Colorado have legalized cannabis from the 1st January 2010, but not on their ski slopes!

Well that is it for 2009. The next weekly news update will be in early January.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Criminal Justice Matters - Limited Free Access

I was having problem with my athens log in today as I tried to access Criminal Justice Matters - My computer became convinced I was from various institutions and would forget my UWE log in within about 3 seconds. However for those of you who do not benefit from a university subscription service I noticed Volume 71 was offering free access. Certainly worth a visit! It was particularly pleasing that that specific edition was available given that it contains an article of mine: Prison: More than detention?

All UWE students should have access to all editions.


Thursday, 24 December 2009

Broadwater Farm Remembered

A quarter of a century ago I lived in Tottenham. Last year (Oct. 2008) I came across this comment on a discussion thread on the Guardian's Comment is Free site.
Meanwhile does anybody really think that society is any more broken today than it was on, say, this very day in 1985 when were 58 policemen hospitalised and one hacked to death during the Broadwater Farm riot? The next day the local MP memorably went on TV and said "the police got a bloody good hiding."
So I took a trip down memory lane to write a response setting out a very different perspective.
Interesting that you don't mention the death of Cynthia Jarrett, the person killed on this very day. Cynthia's house was subjected to a police search (her son was in custody - he had been a passenger in a car which had a dodgy tax disc) during which she was pushed over and died from a heart attack. It was anger at her death which resulted in the events of the following day (6th) the so called Broadwater Farm riots.

The local MP was Norman Atkinson.

The Council Leader was Bernie Grant. From the day of Cynthia's death (5th)Bernie was in Tottenham attempting both to help the angry local community articulate its feelings and demands for justice and to try and avoid a repeat of the violence and destruction of Brixton the week before following the killing of Cherry Groce. Bernie believed passionately in finding legitimate resolutions and whilst determined to hold the police to account for their racism and violent assaults on members of the community Bernie was determined to avoid a riot. On the Sunday there was a meeting on Broadwater Farm Estate in which Bernie (and others) spoke along those lines. At the end of the meeting it was agreed to go to Tottenham Police Station and demonstrate against Cynthia's killing.
The Police however had surrounded the Farm and stopped most of the protesters leaving. Whilst a few of us (predominately white) got to the Police Station most of those at the meeting (predominately young and black) were blockaded on the Farm. Inevitably the stand off didn't last long with hotheads (on one or both sides) igniting the riot/uprising that followed.

Over the next few days Bernie took a conscious decision to remain imbedded in the community. He could have retired to the TV studio and poured flames on the situation by condemning and refusing to understand. But instead he was on the scene, listened to local voices and ensured that the community's perspective was articulated. It was a remarkably brave decision for an ambitious politician. Those of us who advised caution he slapped down. This was not a time to think about future elections but to focus on avoiding a further outbreak of rioting and to ensure legitimate grievances were heard.

Speaking outside Tottenham Police Station Bernie refered to local reactions, he said that some local people felt the police had been given a good hiding. That was true and Bernie was determined that all points of view should be articulated and that silencing the views of anyone, but particularly young angry men, was the road to further riots. The comment was picked up by the media and Peter Jay challenged Bernie about it on TV and he made clear that although this was not his view it was a legitimate one.

Whilst the gaze of the rest of the world moved on Bernie continued to work with the residents of Broadwater Farm and the surrounding area to repair the damage. He understood, cared and was prepared to take risks for what is right. Broadwater Farm and indeed Tottenham were better places for Bernie's leadership. The riots were not repeated, but that was not news.

The people of Tottenham the following year went to the Ballot Box and Labour won and Bernie was returned as Leader of the Council. The next year (1987) Bernie stood as the Labour Party's candidate for Tottenham and was elected an MP.

His quote was therefore not the mad rantings they were portrayed as but the calculated decision of a civic leader determined to ensure that all legitimate voices were heard and to work for peace even if it damaged his political career. Bernie fully expected to lose the leadership of the Council and to be removed as prospective parliamentary candidate. However he refused to allow this to stop him doing what he felt right. It was a brave decision which history has proved was right. How many politicians make a decision 10% as brave in their whole lives?
The original comment on CIF can be read here and the whole thread here

Bernie sadly died in 2000 at the age of 56. He was a pleasure to work with as an activist and local person. I am not sure all the Council officers agreed. His office was always open and when people came in with a complaint he would summon the relevant officers and councillors to explain the situation. It was a breath of fresh air.

When I became a Councillor I often had my surgeries in the next room to Bernie's at Tottenham Town Hall. The waiting area was always packed, not only with people from Tottenham but from across London and often from further afield. If I was lucky one or two were waiting to see me. Bernie has remarkable credibility. People who had never had enough faith in the system to engage with MPs or other elected people believed Bernie would listen and act. But most of all they believed he was on their side. One week Bernie was ill and asked me to cover. I announced the situation and over a hundred people got up and departed leaving me alone to reflect on his remarkable capacity to reach people who the political system had normally offered nothing.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Lucasville: What led to the uprising

by Edward Julious

On Easter Sunday, April 11, 1993, a riot broke out at the infamous Southern Ohio Correctional Facility at Lucasville. Lucasville had a reputation as one of the most violent and predatory prisons in the country. The prison and the atmosphere at the prison had become extraordinarily tense since the arrival of Warden Arthur Tate Jr. in 1990.

Shortly after Tate’s arrival, he began dissolving almost all the programs in the prison. He stripped the college program down to the bare bones. He did away with the music and literary programs and a host of other positive avenues that men were using to do their time. Prisoners were required to march to chow, chapel, commissary, infirmary, recreation, school and work.

In addition, prisoners, who had been celling in a particular block for years were forced to move to other blocks. Further, prisoners classified as Max 4s were locked in their cells after 6 p.m. and prevented from further participation in the vocational programs unless they had fallen under the grandfather clause.
Rules were made up on a daily or weekly basis and not put into writing or issued to prisoners. To make matters worse, guards implementing these rules and regulations often abused their power and authority, causing more conflict. The prison was a tinderbox ready to be ignited.

Simply put, overly rigorous constraints combined with ill-advised housing regulations, which randomly, selectively and forcefully integrated White Extremists in the same cells as Black Revolutionists had tension at an all-time high. Overcrowding was a contributing factor to the tension. Prison conditions had become so adverse and debilitating, they unnecessarily deprived prisoners of their rights and opportunities to rehabilitate themselves or even maintain the skills they already possessed.

Tate declared that all of the aforementioned implementations were to make Lucasville “safer” for those confined there. But the record attests to the reality that the rapes, assaults, plunderings, beatings, stabbings and murders continued.

Then Tate mandated tuberculin skin testing through a process which would require the Muslims to violate their religious tenets. The Muslims had been clear in their objection to the proposed procedure and equally clear that they would be willing to submit to chest x-ray, urinalysis, sputum specimens or any of a number of other tests which would not require the injection of phenol (an alcoholic substance) or any other unlawful substance or its derivatives into their system.

Instead of honoring the Muslims’ request to submit to an alternate method of testing that would not infringe upon their religious beliefs, Tate refused to even entertain the possibility. Because he had absolutely no respect for the prisoners under his control and care, Tate adopted a hard-line approach. He made it known that he was boss and the testing was going to be conducted his way.

In the week before Easter Sunday, the administration telegraphed its intention to lock the prison down the following Monday to accomplish the forceful testing of all prisoners who had not previously submitted to the TB testing. By doing so, they seemed determined to provoke a confrontation. On Easter Sunday they got a confrontation that resulted in a major riot that rocked the entire Ohio prison system.

Rising as one, with racial differences ignored, the prisoners took control of the facility. Several guards were taken hostage in the process. For 11 days a standoff existed. During that time, nine inmates and one guard were killed.

I along with many others have suffered as a result of the injustices of the Lucasville situation. Therefore, I am seeking support and assistance in the establishment of a Political Prisoner Support Network.

I need individuals, groups and organizations willing to dedicate some time, effort and of course the necessary finances to our cause, which is to seek justice for all those wrongly convicted as a result of the uprising at Lucasville.

[Edward Julious is one of those prisoners, though not one of the Lucasville 5. He is not on death row.]

Write to Edward Julious, Register No. 04762-000, U.S. Penitentiary, P.O. Box 5300, Adelanto, CA 92301-5300.

Staughton Lynd's definitive account Lucasville: The Untold Story of a Prison Uprising is one of the best accounts I have read of the dynamics of prison and provides both a good account of the uprising and equally important how the criminal justice system's response was itself a perversion of justice. I really recommend it as a must read of prison literature. The Introduction can be downloaded for free from here.

See also One thousand deaths too many posted on 25 July 2009


Tuesday, 22 December 2009

The week's News - Prison closing, Judge declares the war on drugs futile and organised crime offloads dollars


The Scottish Prison Service has announced they will be closing Noranside prison over the Christmas period. Unfortunately the closure is only for a week but it is a start. Hopefully in the not to distant future we will be closing prisons for good and finding more civilised ways for resolving conflicts and avoiding harm.

Boy George has had his attempt to appear in Celebrity Big Brother blocked by his Probation Officer on the basis that his appearance would undermine confidence in the judicial service if he wins. This rather silly decision is in line with emerging culture in probation that is so risk averse that the standard answer to all requests from those subject to probation supervision is ‘the computer says no’. The increasingly reactionary Harry Fletcher of NAPO has told the Sun that the problem is that if George was in the BB house he couldn’t report to his local probation office regularly. The poor Probation staff would then clearly have no idea where he is! Good luck to George on getting this overturned.

Pablo the Drug Mule Dog now has his own page on facebook. From reading the comments not a great success.

The Daily Telegraph had a good article looking at how police fiddle crime figures.

Eric Allison has written an interesting article on the benefits of bank accounts for ex-prisoners. It is based on this research from Liverpool John Moores University.

Whilst the Home Office continue to celebrate their failed drug strategy with a party to celebrate the one millionth piss test (it was negative) a Judge in Canada has let slip that the Emperor has no clothes. Justice Elliot Allen was asked by a federal prosecutor to jail a man for growing weed. He responded "What's your basis for saying that?” before he pointed out: " People have been going to jail for drug offences for – for a couple of generations now and the drug – the drug plague is worse than it ever was." Why should he continue doing something that clearly did not work? "Isn't that a form of insanity?" he asked. The Appeal Court have given Justice Allen a slap and reminded him that his duty is to enforce the law even if it is insane, doesn’t work, increases drug use and helps funds organised crime.

Meanwhile the Daily Mail warns that 'Heroin and crack dealers are enrolling at British universities to secure thousands of pounds of cheap loans and low priced accommodation’. The evidence for this is underwhelming. They point out that students are entitled to up to £4,950 a year and 72 per cent take up their entitlement to loans. Police operations, the Daily Mail inform us, have revealed three cases where suspected drug dealers were students. Sounds like a good reason to put up university fees, jail Sociology Lecturers and abolish student financial support. Well we must protect our young.

Lastly bad news for the United States economy. After decades of drug dealers helping fund the American Government’s deficit by holding their billions of dollars of drug war profits in $100 notes organised crime is modernising and in an attempt to cut down on storage they are converting their assets into E500 notes. Any bets on the Americans responding by issuing a $1,000 dollar note?


Sunday, 20 December 2009

Whose terrorism? What terror?

My research focuses on mid-nineteenth-century punishment. In political, philosophical and public discourses of the period the word "terror" is used routinely to describe the purpose of state punishment. Punishment it was claimed needed to terrorise the lower classes as the only way to stop them committing crime.

Today terror is a word linked with the activities of terrorists. We, it is claimed, live in daily threat from evil terrorists who, if given the chance, will seek to destroy us and our loved ones. We must be vigilant and seek out potential terrorists, particularly in non-white communities. Underpinning these violent criminals is Islamic radicalisation. To fight this good fight 'we' invest £3.5billion on 'our' intelligence and security services.

This month it was revealed that Terror Police are to monitor nurseries for Islamic radicalisation. A West Midlands counter terrorism unit has e-mailed community groups claiming: "Evidence suggests that radicalisation can take place from the age of 4.” What evidence is yet to be specified but the highly trained unit has advised their sophisticated techniques include looking out for children who draw pictures of bombs. But will they be equally concerned with pictures of bombs dropped on civilians by British planes? Or will that be regarded as patriotic?

One of the main reasons why young Muslim women and men are vulnerable to radicalism is the racism they experience in our society. One place people of Asian decent have had to face racism at its most brutal is in the prison system. All to often it is exactly the type of racist treatment that makes radicalisation much more likley.

The so called war on terror has resulted in an intensification of the racist treatment of asian and other prisoners. I recieved a copy of this appeal from Sunny Nasir Ahmed which illustrates how whilst millions are wasted on counter terrorist police investigating nursary children the prison service is working hard to radicalise prisoners.
I want to highlight an incident that has seriously affected my situation in prison. Firstly, allow me to put what happened into context. I am serving a ten year sentence. Since my conviction I have been exemplary in my behaviour and incurred no disciplinary reports or adverse intelligence reports prior to the incident I am about to describe. I am of Pakistan origin, although until relatively recently had not experienced any discriminatory treatment in prison or ill-treatment at the hands of other prisoners.

Then in February 2008 I began to feel targeted by a small group of prisoners who began to behave in a racist way towards me. Rather than confront them and risk an escalation of the problem I requested a cell change to another area of the prison. This was eventually granted. Very soon after this my cell was subjected to a special search by security staff, which confused me because such searches are only ever carried out because of definite information or intelligence received. No explanation was given to me for the search and I simply hoped that it would not adversely affect my progress in prison.

In about June of 2009 a prisoner called Mohammed Sadique was released from the jail's segregation unit and allocated a cell close to mine. Mr Sadique, a young second-generation Pakistani from a small town in Stirlingshire, had been convicted of down-loading what had been described as "terrorist material" from the internet. There was some controversy surrounding Mr Sadique's conviction and a view that far from being an authentic terrorist, he was in fact a naive and impressionable young man who had been guilty of little more than stupidly viewing and downloading material from websites that in the current political climate are considered extremely risqué. Within Glenochil prison Mr Sadique was considered quite a vulnerable prisoner because of the general mood against Muslim extremists; although in reality Sadique could hardly be described as such.

I formed a friendship with Mr Sadique because of our shared ethnic background and because we attended the Muslim class together and also worked together in the same work shed. Prisoners in this work shed often took without permission various items from the shed and used them for their own personal use, such as sticky tape and magnets, etc. This was common practice and prisoners found in possession of such items were usually given warnings or sometimes placed on disciplinary reports for being in possession of unauthorised articles.

In August 2009 Mr Sadique took a roll of sticky tape and two small magnets from the work shed and then casually left them in my cell. Considering them of no great importance I left them on open display in my cell and thought no more about it. During a routine superficial cell search they were discovered by staff and I was placed on report for being in possession of unauthorised items. At the subsequent disciplinary hearing I pleaded guilty and was given 3 days in segregation and 10 loss of privileges, a fairly standard punishment for the offence.

However, the following day I was seen by a governor who this time subjected me to intense questioning along the lines of: "Who are you intending to harm?", "Are you planning to escape?", "Did you intend to construct a bomb?" I was totally confused and extremely unnerved by this and protested that I was innocent of such accusations. Nevertheless, I was made subject to "special security measures", such as placed on the "escape risk" category, placed on closed visits with immediate family only, and placed on "high supervision level". I was also held in isolation for an unspecified period of time, during which I was photographed. Stories were also leaked to the tabloids about a "terrorist conspiracy" inside the prison that involved Mohammed Sadique, who at the time was awaiting an appeal against his conviction. The picture presented was of Muslim prisoners engaged in the manufacture of bombs inside the prison. The reality was something completely different and the truth is that had the items concerned been discovered in the cell of white prisoners a completely different interpretation would have been put on it. Because I am a Muslim of Asian background it was automatically assumed that I must be involved in terrorist activity, especially as I shared a prison friendship with a young Asian man who has been reviled and denigrated by the media as a professional terrorist. Unarguably, racism has influenced my treatment.

In September 2009 I was finally released back into the prison mainstream and over time there took place a gradual acknowledgement on the part of the Glenochil administration that the "terrorist conspiracy" was in fact a load of utter nonsense. Open visits were returned to me and I was taken off the high supervision level. But my situation in prison has now changed completely and I am treated differently by both staff and prisoners. Despite the quiet acceptance that I was guilty of nothing, officially the claim is that I was segregated because of my alleged involvement in unspecified "subversive activities". Inevitably, this will impact upon my ability to progress to an open jail or my chances of parole. The attitude of most prison staff and prisoners is that there is no smoke without fire, and so I am now viewed by many as a potential terrorist, which increases the mood of racism against me. In a sense, I can be fairly philosophical about the attitude of prisoners, who on the whole are poorly educated and therefore easily influenced by crude racist ideas. But I am less accepting of the behaviour of the prison authorities who misused their power to taint me as a terrorist purely because I happened to be a prisoner of colour and of the Muslim faith. Despite my Pakistani origins I was born and raised in Glasgow and have always considered myself first and foremost a Scotsman with no interest whatsoever in politics. However, now I feel extremely alienated and victimised because of my colour and hold the prison authorities wholly responsible for this.

I have yet to be given a formal acknowledgement by the prison authorities that their allegations against me in August 2009 were completely without foundation and so officially at least I remain tainted by those allegations.

Sunny Nasir Ahmed, HMP Glenochil
Dec 2009
Sunny has requested those concerned at his treatment write and e-mail letters of complaint to Governor Dan Gunn of HMP Glenochil and the Scottish Prison Service Headquarters:

Governor Dan Gunn
HMP Glenochil
King O'Muir Road
FK10 3AD
Fax: (01259) 762003

Scottish Prison Service Headquarters
Communications Branch
Room 338
Calton House
5 Redheughs Rigg
EH12 9HW

Messages of Solidarity for Sunny should be sent to

Sunny Nasir Ahmed,
HMP Glenochil
King O'Muir Road
FK10 3AD

Bouncing Brown Cheque

A cheque Gordon Brown bounced whilst a student is for sale on ebay. Brown went to uni at a time of no fees and relatively generous student grants and despite still bouncing cheques has shown little understanding of the financial pain his policies on student finance have caused.

Bidding for the cheque has now reached £2,750. Which is utter madness.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

More ASBO rubbish

After my ASBO rant last week on the criminalisation of laughter, homelessness and lawful protest (with the later addition of noisy sex) I was intending to leave ASBOs for a couple of weeks. However...

From today's Belfast Telegraph Community service for woman leaving open bin laden with rubbish

No prison this time but a criminal record.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

In praise of ...

The Wikileaks website which allows people to anonymously publish confidential documents whose authors don't want the public to see.

It current allows access to the
gagging order obtained by Tiger Woods lawyers on everyone in this country banning the publication of nude or lewd pictures of Tiger
A copy of the Newsnight video about toxic dumping in the Ivory coast which the BBC removed following threats from Carter Ruck the lawyer heavies engaged by Trafigura whose waste it was.
A book claiming that the McCanns murdered Maddie.
Wikileaks gets all sorts of material into the public domain. Is it all true? I doubt it, but overall exposure is a good thing. CCTV may be watching us, but we can through the web be watching the state and other powerful actors.

To those who set up and maintain Wikileaks respect and thanks.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Drugs not Brown saved the (world) banks

From Rajeev Syal in today's Observer - Drug money saved banks in global crisis, claims UN advisor

Drugs and crime chief says $352bn in criminal proceeds was effectively laundered by financial institutions

Drugs money worth billions of dollars kept the financial system afloat at the height of the global crisis, the United Nations' drugs and crime tsar has told the Observer.

Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, said he has seen evidence that the proceeds of organised crime were "the only liquid investment capital" available to some banks on the brink of collapse last year. He said that a majority of the $352bn (£216bn) of drugs profits was absorbed into the economic system as a result.

This will raise questions about crime's influence on the economic system at times of crisis. It will also prompt further examination of the banking sector as world leaders, including Barack Obama and Gordon Brown, call for new International Monetary Fund regulations. Speaking from his office in Vienna, Costa said evidence that illegal money was being absorbed into the financial system was first drawn to his attention by intelligence agencies and prosecutors around 18 months ago. "In many instances, the money from drugs was the only liquid investment capital. In the second half of 2008, liquidity was the banking system's main problem and hence liquid capital became an important factor," he said.

Some of the evidence put before his office indicated that gang money was used to save some banks from collapse when lending seized up, he said.

"Inter-bank loans were funded by money that originated from the drugs trade and other illegal activities... There were signs that some banks were rescued that way." Costa declined to identify countries or banks that may have received any drugs money, saying that would be inappropriate because his office is supposed to address the problem, not apportion blame. But he said the money is now a part of the official system and had been effectively laundered.

"That was the moment [last year] when the system was basically paralysed because of the unwillingness of banks to lend money to one another. The progressive liquidisation to the system and the progressive improvement by some banks of their share values [has meant that] the problem [of illegal money] has become much less serious than it was," he said.

The IMF estimated that large US and European banks lost more than $1tn on toxic assets and from bad loans from January 2007 to September 2009 and more than 200 mortgage lenders went bankrupt. Many major institutions either failed, were acquired under duress, or were subject to government takeover.

Gangs are now believed to make most of their profits from the drugs trade and are estimated to be worth £352bn, the UN says. They have traditionally kept proceeds in cash or moved it offshore to hide it from the authorities. It is understood that evidence that drug money has flowed into banks came from officials in Britain, Switzerland, Italy and the US.

British bankers would want to see any evidence that Costa has to back his claims. A British Bankers' Association spokesman said: "We have not been party to any regulatory dialogue that would support a theory of this kind. There was clearly a lack of liquidity in the system and to a large degree this was filled by the intervention of central banks."

But don't worry in Britain the war on drugs is moving forward by a brave decision of a committee of MPs to go clubbing. This will, they believe allow them to understand cocaine. They are not thought to be considering testing the substance. They intend to stay safe and stick to alcohol.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Girl Gangs - from over half a century ago

There have been many recent news stories about the new phenomenon of girl violence including these in the Guardian, the Daily Mail, the Sun and the Times.

Stories like this always suggest this is something new. These trailers for 1957 show that even in this "golden age" fears of delinquent girls was apparent.

Maybe time to ask your Mums and Grans what they got up to!

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Amanda Knox and the demonisation of women in the cjs and media

Philippa Willitts writes on the fword blog about the treatment of women in the legal system compared to men, in relation to the conviction of Amanda Knox in Meredith Kercher’s murder.

Amanda Knox has been convicted of the murder of Meredith Kercher, and if you weren’t paying attention, you might believe that she did it alone.

In fact, two men have also been convicted of the murder - one last night and one last year, but they are very much secondary to the story, even though, as far as I can tell, it has never been decided who did the actual killing.

Now, I have not studied the trial or the evidence, and I do not know whether Amanda Knox did or did not kill Meredith Kercher, but I do know that this is seeming to be another legal case where the woman involved is demonised to a degree rarely seen in male defendants.
For the rest of this blog and to read the responses click here.


They won't be home this Christmas!

Miscarriages of JusticeUK (MOJUK) are in touch with 74 prisoners, many of them miscarriages of justice, many serving time beyond tariff with no sign of a release date. Every year MOJUK asks supporters to send a card/message of solidarity to those who will spend Christmas behind bars. John O from MOJUK has broken the 74 down to 7 lists, so if you are minded to send a card/message of solidarity please e-mail John on putting 'Subscribe one, two or more lists' in the subject line.

Update - Got my list and will be sending out an additional ten christmas cards this year. My partner makes ours, mostly adapted and improved versions of Banksy Graffiti

Friday, 4 December 2009

Schoolgirls rumble Ribena vitamin claims

Spotted this in the Guardian

Two New Zealand schoolgirls humbled one of the world's biggest food and drugs companies after their school science experiment found that their ready-to-drink Ribena contained almost no trace of vitamin C.

Students Anna Devathasan and Jenny Suo tested the blackcurrant cordial against rival brands to test their hypothesis that cheaper brands were less healthy.

Instead, their tests found that the Ribena contained a tiny amount of vitamin C, while another brand's orange juice drink contained almost four times more.

"We thought we were doing it wrong. We thought we must have made a mistake," Anna told New Zealand's Weekend Herald. The girls were both 14 and students at Pakuranga College in Auckland when they did the experiment in 2004.

Given Ribena's advertising claims that "the blackcurrants in Ribena have four times the vitamin C of oranges", they were astonished and wrote to the manufacturers, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). When they got no response, they phoned the company, but were given short shrift. "They didn't even really answer our questions. They just said it's the blackcurrants that have it, then they hung up," Jenny said.

But then the girls' claims were picked up by a TV consumer affairs programme, Fair Go, which suggested they take their findings to the commerce commission, a government watchdog.

GSK said the girls had tested the wrong product, and it was concentrated syrup which had four times the vitamin C of oranges. But when the commerce commission investigated, it found that although blackcurrants have more vitamin C than oranges, the same was not true of Ribena. It also said ready-to-drink Ribena contained no detectable level of vitamin C.

GSK is in court in Auckland today facing 15 charges relating to misleading advertising, risking fines of up to NZ$3m (£1.1m).

In Australia, GSK has admitted that its claims about Ribena may have misled consumers. The Australian competition and consumer commission said last week that claims on the nutrition information panel of Ribena's ready-to-drink cartons implied that the product had four times the vitamin C of orange juice drinks, when this was not correct. The girls have since visited GSK to be thanked "for bringing it to our attention".

GSK said in a statement yesterday that concerns about vitamin C only affected some products in Australia and New Zealand."GSK has conducted thorough laboratory testing of vitamin C levels in Ribena in all other markets. This testing has confirmed that Ribena drinks in all other markets, including the UK, contain the stated levels of vitamin C, as described on product labels."

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Johnny Cash: The Story of Folsom Prison

Documentary which explores the most important day in the career of the legendary Johnny Cash. Cash's concert at Folsom State Prison in California in January 1968 touched a raw nerve in the American psyche and made him a national hero at a troubled time in American history.

Strongly recommended

UPDATE: For those of you who missed the film here is a clip from YouTube

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Christina Pantazis Talk on Nation States and Social Harm - Wednesday 2nd December 2009 at UWE All Welcome

Department of Sociology & Criminology - Open Research Seminar
Wednesday 2nd December 2009
University of the West of England, Bristol
Frenchay Campus, Coldharbour Lane, Bristol, BS16 1QY
1.30pm in Room 3D07

Christina Pantazis
(School of Policy Studies, University of Bristol)

Nation States and Social Harm: Resisting the Hegemony of 'TINA'

Christina is one of the founders of the Social Harm school who seek to move our focus away from state defined concepts of 'crime' onto what Steven Box had described as those behaviours which objectively and avoidably cause us the most harm, injury, and suffering’.

Her paper will provide an introduction to social harm theory and challenge the assertion made by Margaret Thatcher that 'there is no alternative' to global capitalism. By adopting a social harm perspective it compares the nature and levels of social harm across different state formations. The UK and US are compared with corporatist and social democratic nations; by doing this we are able to identify more humane forms of capitalist formations operating within the constraints of contemporary globalisation.

All Welcome

Wednesday, 25 November 2009


The last couple of days I have been attending the graduation ceremony for last year's students at UWE. It was the first time I had attended one, having chosen to get my degrees by post. Felt kind of weird parading around in fancy dress but was great to see last years crew and share their big day with them and their parents. I have been promised that I will be sent photos by a few and will post them up when (and if) they arrive.

I was really surprised that even in these difficult times the majority had gone on to 'graduate' jobs or higher degrees. Even more surprising how many were in fields directly related to criminology. Hopefully some of the critical ways of thinking will have stuck and they will question lots.

Update A couple of pictures have been sent through. Hoping for more

and some more

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Loic Wacquant on Radio 4's Thinking aloud

Loic Wacquant was a recent guest of Laurie Taylor on his excellent Thinking Aloud programme on Radio Four. Loic links the expansion of prisons in the US and UK with the decline in the welfare state and warns of the consequences.

You can listen to the programme here

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

The disgrace of Britain's jails

The Independent on Sunday ran these stories on England's prisons last Sunday. (Click headline for full story)

The disgrace of Britain's jails: Institutions short-change inmates and society
Britain's prison system is being "brought to its knees", according to penal reform experts responding to a damning new report obtained by The Independent on Sunday. The soaring prison population, consistently high re-offending rates and increasing numbers of people on short sentences highlighted in the Prison Reform Trust's dossier have produced a system that is "not fit for purpose", they say.

The alarming findings come at a time when the number of offences recorded by police has fallen, as has the number of people found guilty in the courts. The report's evidence will heap pressure on the Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, already under fire for his stewardship of the penal system.

Juliet Lyon: Our prison-building binge is a badge of national shame
The fevered rate of prison building, at a cost of £170,000 per place, is now set to propel the UK past most of our Eastern European neighbours for prison capacity. Overuse of custody has become a badge of political toughness rather than a matter for national shame.

With no crime wave to fuel it, how has this addiction to imprisonment taken hold so fast? According to a Ministry of Justice review, around 70 per cent of the increase in demand for prison places between 1995 and 2005 arose due to changes in custody rates and increased sentence length. A welter of criminal justice Acts, the creation of thousands of new offences and a raft of mandatory minimum penalties have all taken their toll.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Prose and Cons : New Plays by Prisoners and Ex-Prisoners

Friday 4th December – 7pm, Saturday 5th December – 2:30pm

A fantastic series of script-in-hand readings from Koestler Award winning plays. Performed by actors from Synergy Theatre Project and Clean Break, the readings will showcase the best up and coming writing talent in the UK prison system today. Blue Room, Spirit Level, Royal Festival Hall

Tickets are £5, with a 50% discount for concessions (limited number) Please book through Southbank Centre Box Office on 0844 875 0073 or their website

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Landmark book shows how to legalise drugs

After the war on drugs: Blueprint for Regulation from Transform on Vimeo.

There is growing recognition globally that the prohibition of drugs is a counterproductive failure. However, a major barrier to drug law reform has been fear of the unknown – what could a post-prohibition regime look like? In answering that question, Blueprint demonstrates that legally regulating drugs is not a step into the unknown, but a tried and tested approach to control drug production, supply and use.

The book is available as a freedown load here (7.7mb)

I strongly recommend it.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

November 13th – Eighth Anniversary Of 'Liberation' Of Afghanistan

Join Bristol Stop The War Coalition supporters on the Centre (opposite the Hippodrome) from 5pm to 6pm on Friday 13th December to mark the eighth anniversary of the 'liberation' of Afghanistan by the USA and Britain. Bring banners, placards & friends.

Eight years on from November 2001, British & American troops still occupy Afghanistan and are being met by stronger resistance than ever. British casualties this year will be the highest ever. Many thousands of Afghans have died as the USA furthers its interests in the area. Pakistan has been de-stabilised. After a fraudulent election, the Afghan people have a corrupt and weak government which has no support in large parts of the country.

In Britain, the government is in disarray. Senior political and military figures openly question the purpose of being in Afghanistan. Gordon Brown's justifications for being there become lamer and lamer by the day.

Lance Corporal Joe Glenton faces court-martial for refusing to return to Afghanistan. Other soldiers and their families are increasingly prepared to speak out against this war.

Today the Independent called for withdrawal of British troops.

An opinion poll published today shows that well over 60% of people think the war is unwinnable and British troops should be brought home.

Join us on The Centre on November 13th to add your voice to the call for occupying troops to leave Afghanistan and for the Afghan people to have the opportunity to determine their own future free from foreign interference.

For further information email

Drugs and the BNP: introducing Information is Beautiful


Really interesting new datablog from the Guardian launches with some interesting data on BNP membership and the dangerousness of various legal and illegal drugs

Well worth a visit

Yarl's Wood Blockader Imprisoned

Zelda Jeffers appeared at Bedford Magistrates Court on Monday November 2nd. She was sentenced to 16 days in prison for refusing to pay a fine of £450 for her part in blockading Yarlswood Immigration Detention Centre on the day of a charter flight to Nigeria. The joint charter flight that was meant to carry several families to Lagos via Dublin on July 30th this year was delayed for several hours due to the blockade by the Stop Deportation Network and deportees'refusing to board the plane.

Around 1:30pm, as the Yarl's Wood deportees were being put on the coaches to be taken to the airport, supporters and campaigners from the Stop Deportation Network started a demonstration outside, blocking the only way out of the centre. The protest lasted until about 4:30pm, when it was removed by police and the coaches left immediately afterwards. Zelda was arrested while sitting in the road to try and stop the coaches leaving.

Zelda has been sent to HMP Peterborough.

Letters of solidarity either direct to Zelda Jeffers, HMP Peterborough, Saville Road, Westfield, Peterborough PE3 7PD or via London Catholic Worker whom Zelda is a member of at London Catholic Worker, 16 De Beauvoir Road, London N1 5SU or by e-mail to londoncatholicworker[at]yahoo[dot]co[dot]uk

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Why write to a killer on death row?

Saw this article in the Times

Nearly 3,000 Britons, mostly female, are penpals with men awaiting execution in the US. Our writer finds out what drives them and why some marry murderers

When you imagine women writing to murderers on death row it is difficult not to think of Catherine Tate’s tragi-comic figure in her wedding dress preparing to tie the knot with a doomed penpal. What sort of weird, vicarious reason, you wonder, drives them do it? But when you meet someone who has done it, and she describes attending the execution of an inmate who was afraid of dying alone, all such thoughts seem terribly smug and cheap.

Jenny is a young-looking, 50-year-old secretary from Staffordshire, a mother of three with two grandchildren. Jenny is not her real name: like many correspondents, she keeps her pastime a secret believing her friends wouldn’t understand. In 1999, she began writing to condemned convicts in the US after reading an article on prison pen friends in a magazine. One of the men to whom she wrote had been found guilty of murdering an elderly person in Texas, a crime that he always denied. To protect Jenny’s identity, we will call him John.

The rest of the article can be read here

See also World coalition against the death penalty

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Five for a penny (plus £2.75p postage)

Five highly recommended books which should be in the library of all critical criminologists. All are great reads.

Each one is available second hand on Amazon marketplace for 1p. You have to pay a further £2.75 p&p but given the size of a couple of these that is not bad.

1. Steven Box
Power, Crime and Mystification

One of the classics of radical criminology - a compelling account of how power and powerlessness operate within the criminal justice system.

•Paperback: 272 pages
•Publisher: Routledge; 1 edition (24 Nov 1983)

2. Prue Stevenson & Una Padel
Insiders: Women's Experience of Prison

Gives voice to women incarcerated in Britain

•Paperback: 224 pages
•Publisher: Virago Press Ltd (14 April 1988)

3. Ronnie Thompson
Screwed: The Truth About Life as a Prison Officer

'My name is Ronnie Thompson. Being a prison officer was something I used to be proud of. I soon realised the truth of what its like working as a screw, though.It's afucking headache. Corruption, danger, violence. Welcome to my world.'

•Paperback: 384 pages
•Publisher: Headline Review (24 Jul 2008)

4. Nelson Mandela
A Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela

The story of a convicted Terrorist

•Paperback: 784 pages
•Publisher: Abacus; New edition edition (12 Oct 1995)

5. Roger Graef
Living Dangerously: Young Offenders in Their Own Words

The author looks at the experiences of a group of young offenders on a probation programme in Britain, looking at individuals, the crimes they have committed, their circumstances and the problems they face.

•Hardcover: 272 pages
•Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd (4 Jan 1993)

For all of these there are a number of 1p copies but these can sell out.

Happy reading

Sunday, 1 November 2009

The danger of a loose Nutt

Back in July I blogged about my trip to London to hear David Nutt deliver the Eve Saville Lecture at the excellent Centre for Crime and Justice Studies. Last week an edited version of his paper Estimating drug harms: a risky business was published.

David is a scientist not a politician and much of his work has been about identifying the harms associated with various drugs and other activities. His research shows that most illegal drugs are less harmful than legal drugs and other activities. The fact that horse riding is more dangerous than taking ecstasy and smoking cannabis is far less likely to kill you than wine or beer is an inconvenient truth for a government that whilst supporting the alcohol industry promotes the criminalisation of less harmful drugs on the basis of risk. The chart below produced by Nutt compares the harmfulness of legal and illegal drugs:

This shows clearly that the claim that drug classification is anything to with harm is nonsense.

Despite having demonstrated the nonsense of drug policy Nutt was appointed as Chair of the Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) effectively making the Government's chief advisor on drug policy. Not surprisingly Nutt tried to advise the Government to move towards an evidence based policy and to sort out the mess of the classification system. This was too much for Home Secretary Alan Johnson who following the publication of the Eve Saville Lecture last week sacked Nutt.

Much though I respect David Nutt I thought he was wrong as the classification system needs abolishing not reforming. This case has been made powerfully by Steve Rolles in an article The ABC of UK drug classification - not fit for purpose (pages 7-9). Essentially classification links criminal sanctions to 'harmfulness'. This presumes that criminal justice is the most appropriate method for managing drugs potential harm. This approach has clearly failed with drug use increasing, availability widening, and price falling since it was introduced. It has also seen incentives on producers to produce stronger products and dealers to mix all sort of (often dangerous) rubbish with the product.

I suspect that although Nutt was an irritant to Government whilst he was an advisor, insisting on telling them truths they really didn't want to hear he will be a more substantial critic now he has been sacked. Freed from the ACMD and its role in the classification system he will now be able to look at wider drug policy and use his expertise to critique drug policy in far more detail. His sacking is likely to prove a massive mistake for government.

Two other members of the AMCD have resigned in protest at Nutt's sacking

there is a petition which can be signed up to on the Prime Minister's web
site - you can sign it here

It says:

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Re-instate Professor David Nutt On 30 October 2009 the Home Secretary sacked the Chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. Professor Nutt has expressed politically unpopular opinions such as -

Alcohol ranks as the fifth most harmful drug after heroin, cocaine,
barbiturates and methadone. Tobacco is ranked ninth"


Cannabis, LSD and ecstasy, while harmful, are ranked lower at 11, 14
and 18 respectively."

Drug policy should be based on science not hysteria. Scientists
expressing their honestly held expert opinions should not find
themselves in fear of losing their jobs.

Professor Nutt should be re-instated immediate

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Environmental Justice Public Seminar - Wednesday, 11th November, 1.30 - 4.30 pm

‘Environmental Justice’ refers to the human right to a healthy and safe environment, a fair share of natural resources and access to environmental information and participation in environmental decision-making. Social movement campaigns for environmental justice usually focus on the inequitable environmental burdens borne by poor, black and other disadvantaged groups.

This seminar looks at this issue at a local and global level, from NGO, activist and academic perspectives and will be of interest to all those working towards social justice.

This event is open to the public. FFl or to reserve a place, email:


Cristian Domínguez, National Secretary of Environment and Resources, United Confederation of Bolivian Campesino Workers Union

Professor Malcolm Eames, Low Carbon Research Institute, Cardiff University

Judy Ling Wong, Director, Black Environment Network, UK

Hosted by University of Bristol, School for Policy Studies, Centre for the Study of Poverty and Social Justice

Location: Room LT1, 3 - 5, Woodland Road, Clifton, Bristol, BS8 1TB

Backgounds of Speakers:
Cristian Domínguez, has been at the forefront of environmental justice campaigns in Bolivia, opposing water privatisation and working for the nationalisation of natural resources. The organisation he represents, the CSUTCB, is one of the main social movement organisations which brought president Evo Morales to power.

Professor Eames has participated in and led research and consultancy projects for a wide range of agencies including: DTI, DETR, UK Cabinet Office, Environment Agency, Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the European Commission. In 2004, he produced a report on environmental inequalities in the UK which has underpinned the current UK Framework and Strategy for Sustainable Development.

Judy Ling Wong has an international reputation as a pioneer in the field of black and minority ethnic participation in the built and natural environment. She works on urban design, identity, health, employment, and access to the countryside and urban green spaces. The groundbreaking methodology developed by BEN to engage urban-based ethnic minorities has been very influential in many areas of mainstream policy.

Michael Moore on Norway

Winston Churchill when Home Secretary in 1910 told the House of Commons
The treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of civilization of any country.

This short Michael Moore film on Norway suggests it is a very civilised country

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Drugs Kill (unnecessarily?)

Two press stories caught my eye this week. Both involved the tragic deaths of two young women.

The first one concerned the mother of 20 year old Haniska Pett, a regular recreational user of cocaine who died following use of the drug earlier this year, who is to star in a police video advertising the dangers of drugs. The inquest into Haniska's death was clear that it was not cocaine that killed her but the combination of the various substances (including MDMA, MDA, and BZP) it was cut with. Although tragic deaths like this are used to justify the prohibition of drugs like cocaine and the associated war on drugs by law enforcement agencies they also highlight how that very prohibition, by placing the control of the production, distribution and retailing of these products in the hands of criminals inevitably results in the coke sold on the street being far more dangerous due to it being cut with all sorts of much more harmful products. If Haniska had been able to purchase her cocaine from a local chemist she may well still be alive.

The second story also involved a drug death. Sixteen year old Rhona Tavener sadly died after a heavy drinking session. Alcohol is a legal substance manufactured, distributed and retailed by some of Britain's most successful and profitable companies. It is aggressively marketed, particularly at younger people and the industry has successfully persuaded the government to adopt policies designed to maximise sales rather than to promote public health. It is likely that the alcohol industry and the government are directly responsible for some alcohol deaths.

Haniska's death was recorded as 'death by misadventure' by the coroner whilst Rhona's death was classified as an 'accident'. David Nutt did some research on the relative harm of Alcohol and Ecstasy. His findings are interesting.

Deaths every year Alcohol = 22,000 Ecstasy = 10;

It is clear that although illegal drugs do kill people alcohol is a massively bigger killer.

Climate Camp Exhibition NOW ON at the Arnolfini

Tues 13 OCT - Sun 25 OCT, 10 - 6pm: the Climate Camp mobile exhibition is displayed big time in the main Gallery 3 as part of C Words: Climate, Carbon, Capital, Culture.

Climate Camp's fantastic exhibition is displayed for one week before and one week after the Great Climate Swoop on Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station (Sat 17 OCT). Come and see it in an unusual context, along with the rest of the C Words exhibition and season of events on climate change...

More details from

Sunday, 11 October 2009

On the piss or taking the piss

In response to a news story of Morrison's refusing to sell wine to a woman in her fifties in case her 17 daughter drinks it a frustrated supermarket customer posted this on the Guardian's Comment is Free website:
I get asked for ID a lot - I'm 27 - and it makes me really mad. I do look younger than my age but more often than not the checkout assistant is about 16, which I find really annoying. It happened in Sainsbury's last week - a 16 year old kid asking me for ID. I told him I was 27 and had been legally allowed to drink for almost a decade. I told him I had a degree and I was on my way back to my own home after a hard day at work (hoping) to have a relaxing glass of wine with my girlfriend in front of the TV. He just sat there shaking his head. I called my girlfriend (also 27) over because she had her driving license on her and he still refused to serve us in case she gave the alcohol to me when we left the shop. The people who were in the queue behind me were saying tutting and saying things like, 'You should be flattered,' and I was thinking 'FUCK OFF!' I'm 27 years old and all I want is a glass of wine and this fucking school kid won't let me have one!

Alcohol is a serious matter. Over recent years we have seen a public health epidemic as this graph showing the doubling of alcohol deaths since the early 1990s.

Alcohol-related death rates by sex, United Kingdom, 1991-2007 (Source: National Statistics 2009)

So is being hassled for ID even into old age a price worth paying to reduce alcohol deaths? Not at all!! It is a diversion intended to distract our attention from the real problem. We know how to reduce alcohol harm. There is a significant body of scientific evidence which clearly shows that the harm caused by alcohol is directed related to its availability which itself is related to primarily price but also licencing hours.

The Government knows this and has had it spelt out to them by the Chief Medical Officer in his 2009 Annual Report.
Quite simply, England is drinking far too much. England has an alcohol problem. Alcohol is not simply a problem for the minority who are dependent on it - it is a problem for everybody … There is a clear relationship between price and consumption of alcohol … Price increases generally reduce heavy drinkers' consumption by a greater proportion than they reduce moderate drinkers' consumption.
Simple really, but not according to the alcohol industry. They have the ear of government and have, without any evidence, argued that their is no relationship between price and consumption. (Interestingly they tend to ignore this conclusion when promoting their drugs!!) For producers and retailers of alcohol know their profits come from heavy drinkers. The old lady having the occasional sherry is insignificant when compared to the binge drinking teenager.

The Government however realise that if they want to help their drink pushing friends by reducing taxation (and hence the price) of alcohol and removing restrictions on the hours of sales then some busybodies (like doctors) may raise concerns at the dramatic damage done to tens of thousands of peoples health. So they have to do something. So supermarkets push cheap alcohol, (including products clearly aimed at any age drinkers), government deregulate and grandad gets challenged for his ID. Those who say its silly get accused of promoting excessive and underage drinking whilst the alcohol industry enjoys bumper profits and an avoidable public health epidemic continues.

PS Much though it sticks in my throat credit must be given to the Conservative Party for addressing this issue at their latest conference and promising action.

However call me a cynic but I suspect that any Conservative government will turn out just as much a friend of alcohol pushers as New Labour has been.

Hands off my Workmate

Saturday 17 October 2009

A conference on migrant workers, bringing together campaigners, academics, trade unionists and students alongside migrant workers.

School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG

Speakers include:
  • Gilbert Arhcar
  • Phil Marfleet
  • Jeremy Dear - NUJ
  • Alex Gordon - RMT
  • Sasha Callaghan - UCU
  • Kevin Courtney - NUT
  • Neil Jameson - Strangers into Citizens
  • Keith Best - Immigration Advisory Service

  • Bread and roses too: how migrant workers have always been central to unions
  • Winning the living wage
  • Busting the migration myths: challenging the racists
  • Globalisation and profits: How do borders fit in
  • Poverty, war, neoliberalism, migrant labour in the global economy (why people move)
  • Stopping the raids: legal and union strategies to defend migrant workers
  • The border in the workplace: restricting welfare and housing- who benefits
  • Strangers and citizens
  • The feminisation of migrant labour
  • What will the recession mean for migrant workers?
  • We won't spy on students - education for all

Conference organised by SOAS UNISON, SOAS UCU and SOAS Students. For further information and to book a free place email: or see the Hands off my Workmate conference and teach-in website.