Resistance, Repression and Resilience: The Evolution and Disappearance of Prisoners’ Rights Movements

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 10:30
Oral Presentation
Cormac BEHAN, University of Sheffield, United Kingdom
As long as prisons have existed, prisoners have challenged their confinement. Prisoners have protested against the conditions under which they were held and resisted the disciplinary limitations inherent in the denial of liberty. Protests have manifested themselves in many forms: violent and peaceful, legal and illegal, individual and collectivist. As long as individuals have been held against their will and their freedom restricted, they have attempted to circumvent the rules, regulations and standardisation inherent in daily life in prison.

While resisting the constraints of confinement is as old as the prison itself, this paper will examine the prisoners’ rights movements which emerged in a number of European and US jurisdictions throughout the 1970s. It will investigate how prisoners organised in such difficult conditions and consider how their resistance manifested itself through a variety of different forms, political and non-political. It will analyse why prisoners’ rights movements faded away, not just as organisations, but also from narratives around social movements and accounts of penal history. Finally, it will argue that there is a need to excavate the history of these movements in order, not just to provide a more comprehensive analysis of the penal experience during this period, but also to understand the relative lack of prison organising in the 21st century.