Prison Issues

Prison Issues

ICOPA 18 - London 2018

About 400 activists, academics and ex-prisoners participated in the ICOPA 18 conference based at Birkbeck campus of the University of London.

It was hosted by the Department of Criminology Birkbeck University of London, Harm and Evidence Research Collaborative, the Open University, and the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies. Other participating organisations were the Action for Trans Health, Bent Bars Project, Black Lives Matter UK, Empty Cages Collective, Inquest, IWW London, JENGbA, London Campaign against Police and State Violence, Netpol, North London Sisters Uncut, Race & Class collective, Reclaim Holloway, Reclaim Justice Network, Smash IPP!, Stopwatch and Women in Prison.

Justice Action brought with them a statement from Long Bay prisoners representing prisoners of Australia. (See underneath) This statement of solidarity was read as the final message of the conference on Monday afternoon. JA presented the Computers in Cells victory in Australia and shared the mechanisms for its adoption in all jurisdictions, giving prisoners the right to communication. The JUST US newspaper for people in prison and locked hospitals was distributed.

Academics from Australia and NZ presented their papers on abolition. The history of the anti-carceral feminist actions called Wring Outs in the 1980s and 1990s in Melbourne was presented by Emma Russell and Bree Carlton. Minnie Ratima and Pat Magill described resistance against Maori criminalisation and the Robson Collection in Napier Library supported by ICOPA in NZ in 1997. Community policing protecting sex workers in NZ was described. 

Report Download


18th International Conference on Penal Abolition (ICOPA18) highlights in 15-18 of June 2018:

18th International Conference on Penal Abolition (ICOPA 18) Summary:

Minnie Ratima and Pat Magill interview ICOPA18: 


These videos are on YouTube now! For more details:

International Conference on Penal Abolition (Justice Action): http://justiceaction.org.au/prisons/prison-issues/icopa
ICOPA 18 website: https://icopa2018.com/
ICOPA 18 Twitter: https://twitter.com/ReclaimJustice
ICOPA 18 Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Abolitionist-Futures-154837165177628/
ICOPA website: http://www.actionicopa.org/

ICOPA 19 will be in Miami US in mid 2019.

ICOPA XIV - Trinidad 2012

Official Statement by Anthony P. Gonzales and Catherine Ali, ICOPA Coordinators

Our Ref: 10/96                                                                                                                                                                                                12thJuly, 2012

Dear Friends of ICOPA,

             Thank you all for presenting and for participating in four days of dialogue at ICOPA 14, at The University of The West Indies, St Augustine Campus, Trinidad and Tobago. There have been many positive responses and the organizing team enjoys the satisfaction of a job well done. An enormous amount of work was undertaken by Liz Griffith, Marilyn Ramon-Fortuné, Keshan Latchman, Gerard Modeste, Adrian Alexander and Jacqueline Roberts on a voluntary basis, for a cause they had never heard of up to a few months ago, and have come to appreciate as deserving of their energy. They are an exemplary team.

Dr. Anthony Gonzales, Interim Director of the Institute of International Relations, provided a home for the international conference at the University and saw its practical value particularly as many countries can no longer afford prisons and have not considered alternatives. His acceptance, and the support of the Principal, Professor Clement Sankat and Mrs. Elizabeth Mc Comie, effectively directed our initial planning efforts and gave status to the conference. Consequently we attracted students and staff from the Police Academy, the Prison Training College, and the Youth Training Centre, in addition to Criminology representatives from UWI, UTT and COSTATT - all of whom want to move forward together and continue the conversation in regular local fora. Perhaps we could rotate a half-day symposium through these venues at regular intervals.

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ICOPA Introduction

 icopa hall

"The time has come to abolish the game of crime and punishment, and to substitute a paradigm of restitution and responsibility. The goal is the civilization of our treatment of offenders." Ruth Morris of Rittenhouse, Canada 1997

What is ICOPA?

The International Conference on Penal Abolition (ICOPA) is bi-annual global gathering of a variety of people around the world including academics, activists, practitioners and people who are currently or were previously imprisoned. The conference encourages a dialogue for new ideas to work towards the abolition of imprisonment and the penal system. The ICOPA 14 was held in Trinidad to address the main issues concerning the Caribbean penal system and the actions to be taken in order for abolition to occur. Justice Action was invited to participate in ICOPA and contributed its perspective on the crime situation in the Caribbean, the government authorities and the prison system. The next ICOPA is scheduled to be held in Canada in 2014 with the aim to further strive for the abolition of the penal system.

International Conference on Penal Abolition

The Movement to Abolish Prisons is as old as prisons themselves. In the 19th century, voices like Thomas Buxton of the British Parliament and Victor Hugo of France condemned the prison system and retributive justice. In 1976 Gilbert Cantor, a former editor of the Philadelphia Bar magazine, wrote in that prestigious magazine: "If our entire criminal justice apparatus were simply closed down...there would probably be a decrease in the amount of behaviour now labelled 'criminal.'

In 1981, the Canadian Quaker Committee on Jails and Justice planted the seed that grew to become ICOPA. Since 1982, fifteen international conferences have been held in all regions of the world. 


The Abolition Foundation

ICOPA founders have established a small trust to continue the conferences and build the movement for penal abolition.

ICOPA needs your help and support.

ICOPA History

The International Conference on Penal Abolition
written by the late Ruth Morris.

Rittenhouse, Canada 1997

The modern abolition movement has roots in European criminologists promoting abolition, and American (mostly Quaker) abolitionists. Fay Honey Knopp's group in the USA produced a landmark book called Instead of Prisons. This group and this book helped infect Canadians with the abolition call. The Quaker Committee on Jails and Justice, of the Canadian Friends Service Committee, worked for years to educate Canadian Quakers.

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icopa hall

What is ICOPA?
The International Conference on Penal Abolition (ICOPA) is bi-annual global gathering of a variety of people around the world including academics, activists, practitioners and people who are currently or were previously imprisoned. The conference encourages a dialogue for new ideas to work towards the abolition of imprisonment and the penal system.
Click here for ICOPA information.

Prior Conferences
ICOPA 18 Report Download
The Eighteenth Conference on Penal Abolition was held in London, United Kingdom - 2018.

The Seventeenth Conference on Penal Abolition was held in New Bedford, MA, United States - 2017.

The Sixteenth Conference on Penal Abolition was held in Quito, Ecuador - 2016.

The Fifteenth Conference on Penal Abolition was held in Ottawa, Canada - 2014.

The Fourteenth Conference on Penal Abolition was held in Trinidad - 2012.

The Thirteenth Conference on Penal Abolition was held in Belfast, Northern Ireland - 2010.

The Twelfth Conference on Penal Abolition was held in London, England - 2008.

The Eleventh Conference on Penal Abolition was held in Tasmania, Australia - 2006.

The Tenth Conference on Penal Abolition was held in Lagos, Nigeria - 2002.

The Ninth Conference on Penal Abolition was held in Toronto, Canada -  2000.

The Eighth Conference on Penal Abolition was held in Auckland, New Zealand - 1997.

The Seventh Conference on Penal Abolition was held in Barcelona, Spain - 1995.

The Sixth Conference on Penal Abolition was held in San Jose, Costa Rica - 1993.

The Fifth Conference on Penal Abolition was held in Indiana, USA - 1991.

The Fourth Conference on Penal Abolition was held in Azimierz Doly, Poland - 1989.

The Third Conference on Penal Abolition was held in Montreal, Canada - 1987.

The Second Conference on Penal Abolition was held in Amsterdam, Netherlands - 1985.

The First Conference on Penal Abolition was held in Toronto, Canada - 1983.

Click here for detailed history on ICOPA. 

Art in Prison

“Art is the only way to run away without leaving home.” 
- Twyla Tharp

Art in Prison is a project that documents the history of Prison Art as a genre and exploring its impact as an effective therapeutic and rehabilitative tool that offers a form of communication that transcends narrow perceptions. Including creations by prisoners and contributions from the justice community, the Art in Prison report intends to stimulate discussions around Prison Art.

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Consumers Ejected From Prison Health Conference

“Prisoner representation was ejected on the opening day of a four-day conference about prisoner health at the International Convention Centre, Sydney. Justice Health Chair Chris Puplick and CEO Gary Forrest personally ordered that the consumer representative be taken out as he hadn’t paid $2500 registration to attend. Security staff escorted him out. The expulsion was recorded and is available here

“Keynote speaker Justice Michael Kirby was asked whether prisoners and their representatives should have been invited to participate. He responded saying that no HIV conference would be held without people living with HIV being involved”

“This latest brazen incident shows that the Health Department culture has entirely lost its principles and direction. People in custody have equal rights to health care as others, and have much greater health needs. Their physical and social isolation allows them to be bullied and exploited. The callous disrespect exposed in Lismore Hospital to dying Miriam Merten will continue throughout custodial areas unless the consumer voice is supported and central. We call upon the ministers involved to start the process of change with an open discussion”

Australian National Council on Drugs

A new report commissioned by the Australian National Council on Drugs (ANCD) has highlighted that the role of Australia's prisons need far greater levels of accountability and transparency, as well as a much stronger commitment to providing effective programs and treatment for people with drug and alcohol issues if we are to see any change in reoffending rates. 

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Needle and Syringe Program

The proposed Needle and Syringe Program at the Andrew Maconochie Centre in the ACT provides a window through which to view attitudes towards prisoners’ health and their right to an equivalent health care system. The fierce objection to its introduction by prison officers highlights Corrections’ approach to prisoners’ health - as one of many competing interests. As progress to introduce an NSP, a tool proven to be highly beneficial to health, is slowed/potentially blocked by prison officers, it raises the question – does prisoner health come second?

As rates of Hepatitis C in correctional facilities reach levels sixty times that of the general population, it is imperative that the role of needle sharing in the spread of blood-borne communicable diseases is recognised and taken seriously. Some form of Needle and Syringe Program must be implemented to ensure that the duty of care that prison authorities owe to prisoners to protect them from foreseeable harm is fulfilled.

Justice Action Research Paper: "Pricking the Bubble Around Prison NSP's"
Implementation of a Needle and Syringe Program at the Alexander Maconochie Centre
Justice Action Submission regarding the Moore Report 
Just Us Article
Report Extracts
Justice Action Report: AMC Prisoners' Consultation

Australian law and international treaty obligations recognize that a person’s capacity to access health services must not be compromised by reason of imprisonment and that all people have a basic right to health. In 1990, the United Nations adopted the Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners, at its core is the “principle of equivalence” which ascertains that prison health services must be of the same quality and meet the same standards as those of the outside community. As such, as highlighted by the World Health Organisation and the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, the higher the rates of injected drug use and associated risk behaviours becomes in prisons, the greater the urgency for the introduction of needle and syringe programs becomes.

The National Drug Strategy approaches drug policy from the position of harm minimalisation, including the reduction of demand, supply and harm. Yet the strategies employed in prisons are highly inconsistent with approaches to illicit drug use in the community. The rates of Hep C infection, transmission and the use of shared needles in correctional facilities also serve to highlight these inconsistencies with rates in the wider community.

Prisoners have highlighted the need for the introduction of a NSP to Justice Action for decades as they would prefer to avoid infection rather than undertake expensive post-infection treatment strategies and should have the right to control their own health care. None of the goals of the NDS or the right to adequate healthcare should be lost because a person is incarcerated.

Many countries have established a variety of carefully controlled programs that allow prisoners who inject drugs to access sterile needles. First established in Switzerland in 1992, NSPs have been established in more than 50 prisons in 12 countries in Europe and Central Asia including:

-       Spain

-       Portugal

-       Germany

-       Moldova

-       Kyrgyzstan

-       Belarus

-       Luxemburg

NSPs have also gained great support in Canada and Greece.


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