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Six things you can do to show solidarity with trans prisoners

Monday 15-01-2018 - 14:20

Monday 22 January marks International Day of Solidarity with Trans Prisoners. Here, NUS Trans Officer, Jess Bradley, outlines six things you can do to show solidarity with incarcerated trans people.

Learn about the Prison Industrial Complex

The Prison Industrial Complex is a network of private corporations, public bodies, quangos and other interests which financially, socially and otherwise benefit from the incarceration of people in prisons, young offender’s institutes, and asylum detention centres. Its goal is the maintenance and expansion of an increasingly privatised network of cages in order to create profit.

A lot of resources on the Prison Industrial Complex are US based. Whilst the situation in the US has its own history and challenges, we have a lot to learn from US-based resistance to the Prison Industrial Complex. And our situation is not much better, we have the highest incarceration rate in Western Europe and our government is pursuing a massive prison expansion project.

Useful resources here include:

Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Davis. An accessibly written book exploring the US prison system, a must read. Available free online here.

Beyond Walls and Cages: Prisons, Borders and Global Crises edited by Jenna Lloyd and Matt Mitchelson. Talks about the links between migration, borders, and the Prison Industrial Complex.

Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex – Edited by Eric Stanley and Nat Smith, foreword by Cece McDonald. Book about gender, trans issues, and the Prison Industrial Complex.

Decolonization Means Prison Abolition – a film of a discussion at a conference in Portland, check it out here.

Talk to your mates about alternatives to the Prison Industrial Complex

A lot of people understand that prison is an expensive experiment in traumatising rather than rehabilitating those who are incarcerated but do not necessarily understand what the alternatives to punitive justice are.

Restorative justice is an approach to community conflict which seeks to both address interpersonal conflict through mediation and dialogue, as well as challenging the structural oppressions and barriers which can contribute to conflict within the community. As an approach, it enjoys higher levels of victim/survivor satisfaction than prison justice. However, it doesn’t yet have much public support because of decades of “tough on crime” rhetoric from politicians and the media which seek to hide away social problems by incarcerating the people who they believe represent them, rather than address the problems directly.

You can help by learning about restorative justice and other community approaches to conflict resolution and talking to your mates about them. Some good resources include:

Project Salvage – UK group combatting sexual violence in activist communities. They have an excellent resource page with a comprehensive list of restorative justice resources. 

Resisting Gendered Violence Without Cops or Prisons – video

The Revolution Starts at Home – zine about combatting domestic abuse within activist communities.

Raise money for organisations supporting trans and queer prisoners

Organisations working on trans and queer solidarity in the UK are often unfunded, run by unpaid volunteers, with little resources. You can help by fundraising for those organisations. Consider running a bake sale, a club night, or an open mic night. In the UK, the main organisations supporting trans and queer prisoners are:

Bent Bars, who run a letter writing scheme connecting LGBT+ prisoners with LGBT+ people on the outside;

Action for Trans Health, who have a prisoner solidarity fund which gives financial support to trans prisoners;

Trans Equality Legal Initiative, who do strategic litigation on trans issues (including around imprisonment) and can also connect trans prisoners with good lawyers.

Organise a film showing

Organising a film showing can be a great way to get a group of people together to raise awareness and political consciousness. You could have a discussion after the film (perhaps invite people who are survivors of the prison industrial complex or from relevant local campaign groups) and collect donations for the organisations listed above.

Some good films include:

Miss Major – a film about the veteran US trans activist Miss Major, and her work supporting trans women of colour to survive and challenge the prison industrial complex.

Criminal Queers – a US film about queer and trans organising against the prison industrial complex.

Visions of Abolition – a film from Critical Resistance looking at the US prison abolition movement, with a particular focus on intersectional feminist challenges.

Follow the work of abolitionist organisations and volunteer your time

Abolitionist organisations work hard to challenge the prison industrial complex. You can help by following and sharing their work on social media and volunteering your time. Some good organisations and people to follow include:

Empty Cages Collective

Community Action on Prison Expansion ( also on Facebook and Twitter). They also have local groups, including in Manchester, Wigan and London

Prison Culture – the account of an awesome US based abolitionist

Smash IPP – campaigning against indefinite sentences (also on Facebook)  

Joint Enterprise Not Guilty By Association (JENGBA) – group campaigning against unjust joint enterprise charges (also on Facebook and Twitter

Industrial Workers of the World Incarcerated Workers Organising Committee – union organising incarcerated workers (also on Facebook).

Join these upcoming protests!

[Content note for deaths in custody]

On 30 December 2016, trans prisoner, Jenny Swift, was found dead in her cell. It was known that she had had her medication withheld and that she had received transmisogynistic harassment from prison guards. Action for Trans Health is holding a noise demonstration outside HMP Doncaster on the 11 February to show that Jenny will not be forgotten and to demand the following: 

That the transphobic guards never be allowed to work in prisons or with vulnerable people again.
That hormones be available on demand to anyone who requests them, including people in prison.
That the government cease all prison expansion and construction projects, including Scottish plans to create a non-binary prison, and invest the £1.3bn it has planned for new “mega prisons” in restorative justice instead of more isolation, violence and death.


The Prison Industrial Complex also covers immigration detention centres, which essentially lock people up for the “crime” of existing on the wrong bit of land. UK detention centres are notorious for abuse. Morton Hall Detention Centre has had four deaths in custody over the last year. Protest group Shut Down Morton Hall are organising a demonstration there on the 20 January, pop along if you can.

If you need any support organise in solidarity with trans prisoners where you are, get in touch with me at trans@nus.org.uk for a chat. 

Jess Bradley 
NUS Trans Officer 

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Features, Trans

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