As part of the 2017 Year of Resistance against IPP Sentences, Smash IPP organised a Fortnight of Action this July 9th – 23rd 2017. Soon swelling into a whole month of action, July saw a huge escalation in action for IPP prisoners.
More than 3989 people are serving IPP (Imprisonment for Public Protection) sentences in British prisons. Five years since the sentence was legally abolished, thousands still languish in jails with no release date. Parole board delays, prison overcrowding, and sheer neglect is leading to unprecedented rates of prisoner suicides and self-harm. 80% are over tariff and desperate to be free. This month of action was dedicated to all of the IPPs, but most notably Charlie Noakes. Charlie was an IPP prisoner who died on the 23rd July 2016 as a result of prison neglect and the despair of this sentence.
A huge amount of actions took place across the UK.
The first action to happen was an incredible demo at HMP Cardiff on Saturday 1st July. More than 50 people came out to name and shame Officer White, a prison officer known locally for targeting vulnerable prisoners, those on IPP sentences and the mentally ill. Outside the prison, campaigners called for him to be sacked. The prisoners and the protestors made a lot of noise and kids gave out leaflets to the public. Members of the IWW, Prisoners Voice, No Prisons De Cymru and Smash IPP were there to support the women organising the demo who had had members of their family targeted by Officer White.
Bristol Anarchist Black Cross organised a letter writing evening at their local social centre, Kebele. More than 30 letters were written to IPP prisoners. A picket also took place at the Probation Office in the city centre. Hundreds of leaflets were given to members of the public to highlight the injustice of the sentence.
A group of people also visited HMP Erlstoke in Wiltshire, where one in five prisoners is an IPP. They brought a sound system and made a ton of noise, shouting “Smash IPP. Give them a Date. Set them Free!”. Prisoners could be heard shouting back from across the walls.
On Saturday 8th July, family members of Ian Hartley, an IPP prisoner at HMP Risley near Warrington, staged a protest outside HMP Risley with support from Smash IPP. Ian is an IPP prisoner who has spent over 12 years in prison for a 38-month tariff. A loud sound system blasted songs over the walls of the prison, the general public and visitors to the prison were given leaflets about IPP. Ian writes how “Prison is violence and drug fueled, even the prison officers have walked out. How can you expect to rehabilitate in a place like this? I have lived like this for 12 years and have lost all hope and faith of getting out.” Read his recent letter here.
An info night was also organised in South London as a first step to organising more solidarity in the City. Folks that came heard about the history of the sentence and watched a short video of two family members talking about their experience of this nightmare sentence that never ends. Watch it here.
Responding to Smash IPP’s call out for a fortnight of action, DIT Collective engaged in a number of events in Norwich including two days outside Norwich Probation Office talking with people entering and leaving about their experiences in prison, on probation, and trying to get by on the outside. They write:
“We, of course, had a particular interest in engaging with people affected by IPP sentences and found more often than not that everyone, if they weren’t themselves affected, knew one or more people on the inside on an IPP. Every single person reported this, illustrating the prevalence of IPP across the board – HMP Norwich, Wayland, and Bure included. We had one evening of writing letters to prisoners currently inside on IPP sentences, a small communal affair that resulted in more than 20 letters being sent to institutions across the country.
On Saturday 15th we also carried out a banner drop from Norwich’s tourist bus that passes by HMP Norwich. “Passengers actually seemed glad of the off-script “disruption” if anything, and when we spoke to people in the café most of them hadn’t heard of IPP and wanted some information. The staff were super welcoming and well informed about IPP as they’re inmates at Norwich prison.
Why would the tour bus company feature the prison on the tour? If prisons are tourist attractions complete with gruesome details of how horrible they used to be in the past this is just another way to normalise their existence now and feed into the narrative of progress. This story of “progress” often focuses on the “protections” the legal system offers, but speak to anyone with experience of it and you get a different story. Prisons may have used more physical punishments to control populations in the past but there are now far more insidious forms of control, and while some historians like to paint a rosy picture of “things getting better” hopefully most of us recognise this as bullshit we’re told to shut us up.”
Members of DIT Collective were also proud to be part of the small but successful noise demo at HMP Peterborough on the closing Sunday, where not only did we make an obnoxious racket but met some lovely comrades from Peterborough itself who knew it was to be on the inside of the walls we stomped around.”
Final Action For Charlie
On Sunday 23rd July, Smash IPP headed to HMP Peterborough to commemorate the one year anniversary of Charlie Noakes’ death.
An IPP prisoner for nearly ten years, Charlie lived for her family, her friends, and her art. Even these were not enough to heal the psychologically destructive nature of indeterminate sentences, though, and Charlie took her own life on 23rd July 2016.
We wanted to remember her in a present, joyful way and decided that a noisy protest would allow us to express the warmth and anger that her memories bring back. It also meant we could extend a hand of solidarity with the IPPs, lifers, and all other prisoners still caged inside HMP Peterborough.
A small but eager collection of people from across the UK joined us with banners and noise-makers as we set out to circle around the 40 foot high walls of the prison. Led by a local group that had been on the inside of these walls, we were able to hit the spots closest to the male and female wings of the prison with the hope that they’d hear us loud and clear. Chants of “Give them a date, set them free – smash IPP” and “No more deaths on IPP” were bolstered by music, banging pots, and even a bike horn. During the calmer moments, tributes to Charlie were read out.
It seemed at first that those on the inside couldn’t hear us though we continued despite for an hour. Later it was discovered that our clamour made it over the walls and through the bars of HMP Peterborough, with those inside excited and happy about the commotion.
The recently released 2017 Independent Monitoring Board report for HMP Peterborough states the institution currently contains 22 IPPs that feel “lost within the system”. We hope that for an hour at least the love and rage we channeled from Charlie brought some relief to those feelings of hopelessness.
This is only the beginning
Smash IPP was stoked with how the fortnight (then, month) of action went. However, we know this is really just the beginning of efforts to accelerate and intensify pressure on the State to free the IPPs. As a collective, we welcome new members, and we also aim to support people to start groups in their areas. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
For Freedom! Smash IPP!