When we reflect, look back at history it provides us with an opportunity to not only see where things went wrong and learn from the mistakes but to also see what went right and to learn from the lessons. A part of HMP Brixton’s history provides us with evidence of #whatcanbe when the local community invest in their local prison and I don’t mean a financial investment. In fact, it need not cost a thing but as Brixton’s history showed us it can save lives. It certainly stopped death.
At the beginning of the 1900s, Brixton prison was chosen as a new site where an ‘execution suite’ would be built housing the gallows as the prison became a home of hanging. The foundations were dug, the bricks laid and the pit was dug. The only thing missing was the gallows.
The residents were already unhappy that Brixton had also begun to take prisoners on remand which meant a daily convoy in and out of the prison taking prisoners to court, upsetting the peace and quiet of Brixton Hill. “the change may not be so favourably regarded by a suburb so famous for its middle-class respectability as Brixton.” (Shoreditch Observer as cited in West, 2019) And it wasn’t. The community came together and put a stop to Brixton becoming a jail of execution. Unfortunately, the communities around Holloway, Pentonville and Wandsworth were slightly more accommodating.
However, imagine if the communities around those three prisons where executions took place also took a stance and said: “No!, we appreciate you have a role to play within our community, but as a community, we will not have that sort of thing going on in our local prison”. Or words to that effect. Then as each house of correction around the country became earmarked as a house for execution this was repeated by community after community. I’d suggest were that the case the death penalty in this country would have been removed far, far sooner.
All because a community came together.
If communities invested in their local prison would we have a need for Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons? Would there be a requirement for the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman? Could we finally see an end to the toothless voyeurs from the IMB? Now there’s a somewhat hidden community-based irony.
Our prisons as much as some don’t like to think it, exist within society and not outside of it. They are a part of the local community as much as they are their own communities.
Therefore, local communities should make their local prison a central point and not an elephant in the room.
Communities can do great things.
Why not invest in your local prison?
West, A., (2019) ‘It’s not prisoners but prisons that need rehabilitating’ [online] Available at: https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/transformation/its-not-prisoners-but-prisons-that-need-rehabilitating/. Accessed 24/06/20