Abolition and Transformative Justice

As the government grants the police, and other arms of the state, increasingly more power and protection, we are forced to ask ourselves: who is protecting those of us abandoned by the state and how can we seek justice when the state causes us harm? We see time and time again that those who design and uphold laws, supposedly in the name of public safety, are not held to account for breaching the law and the consequent harm they cause. Even when they are found guilty by the highest institutions of law and order, agents of the state retain stable incomes and positions of power and influence. With so many instances of abuse of power how can we trust these institutions to deliver us justice?

When we think of harmful behaviour and wrongdoing in terms of the criminal justice system – as is embedded in our daily lives from a young age – it is easy to overlook that laws are designed by the white elite to maintain social order and the flow of capital. This is reflected by landlords and employers continuing to accumulate wealth at the expense of others’ health and safety. No laws protect us from the harm that they cause, recent examples being the government’s decision to absolve landlords of the hazards posed by flammable cladding, or the lack of regulations protecting renters during the pandemic. When we think about harmful behaviour in terms of ‘harm’ rather than ‘crime’, it allows us to deepen our understanding of the extensive ways that we are hurt by the state, and how this violence manifests itself in so many forms in our personal relationships and homes. Understanding this helps us realise that we cannot depend on the state to achieve justice. How can we expect our colonisers, abusers and oppressors to help us achieve the nuanced kinds of justice that we deserve?

Transformative Justice is an Alternative to Punishment

“The State’s behaviour is violence, and it calls its violence ‘law’; that of the individual, ‘crime.’” – Max Stirner

The criminal justice system isolates and alienates all those it comes into contact with. Punitive methods of discipline and control have been entrenched in all aspects of our lives, from isolation and exclusion in schools to probation at work. These measures are not constructive or formative – rather they punish anyone who requires different kinds of learning or support. This teaches us from a young age that certain behaviours lead to success and financial security;  those who contribute to society and the economy in an “acceptable” way to the state are recognised as worthy humans, while those who do not deserve to be punished. As children, we are often punished for doing ‘bad,’ and we are taught that justice is a reactionary act of inflicting something upon someone. Punitive justice also reproduces  itself when we call for cops to be locked up, report colleagues to our bosses or police the behaviour of our loved ones. Although punishment often feels like the natural solution when someone causes us harm, transformative justice offers us alternatives.

Since long before the conception of the criminal justice system, Black, Indigenous and other colonised communities have had traditions of community accountability that have inspired the survivor-led transformative justice movement. This looks like groups of people – friendship circles, families, community institutions or specific community members – engaging in accountability circles, support bubbles, mediation, counselling and other healing practices. No two processes of community accountability are identical, as every group has different circumstances and requires nuanced approaches to community healing. Community accountability seeks to transform the material conditions of the ‘criminal’, acknowledging that when all are provided for, ‘crime’ is drastically reduced. It recognises the need for radical redistribution of wealth, inheritance, land, housing, food and healthcare.

Transformative Justice is Survivor-led

Transformative justice centres survivors of domestic, sexual and gendered violence and provides them with the resources and prolonged support to explore what they need to heal, and how that may relate to the harmdoer. In cases of reported sexual and domestic violence, police intervention and court hearings retraumatise and disempowers survivors. Their individual needs are disregarded; not even basic necessities such as long-term emotional support, shelter, emergency welfare and safety from deportation are guaranteed by the state. The findings of the court are often inadequate, and the few perpetrators that are sentenced are not held personally accountable to the individual and community that they harmed. 

Given that most sexual, domestic and gendered violence is inflicted by people within our circles, we are honouring ourselves when we hold each other to account, especially considering that harm is felt not just by one individual survivor, but by the community as a whole. Transformative justice requires radical empathy and extensive building, connecting and educating within communities. We collectively imagine multi-dimensional solutions that dignify and uplift survivors and their healing, while also actively holding harmdoers to account and offering support in determining root causes of their actions and transforming their behaviour. 

Transformative Justice is Collective Action

“There are no experts in transformative justice. We are all called to labour. We are all called to do our part. It is a collective project. So we are all responsible.” – Mariame Kaba

The systems as they currently stand are built to defend capitalism, heteropatriarchy, imperial border regimes, racism and anti-Blackness, ableism, transphobia, queerphobia, fatphobia and classism. Transformative justice calls on us to engage in continuous learning and unlearning around these systems of oppression and the violence that is ingrained into our behaviour and relationships as a result. In thinking about violence in terms of ‘harm’ rather than ‘crime’, we honour that we are far too complex to be categorised as either ‘guilty’ or ‘innocent’, and discover that we can hold ourselves and each other accountable for our actions. No one can say that they have never caused anyone harm, and transformative justice asks us to reckon with that. The carceral state individualises harm and isolates harmdoers which creates shame and guilt whereas transformative justice holds ourselves and our loved ones to account by respecting our humanity.

In our everyday lives, transformative justice might call for childcare, safehouses, walking each other home, food and toiletry drives, taxi funds, neighbourhood patrols and self-defence classes. Many sex worker, crisis relief and queer and trans mutual aid networks are well practised in this vital care-work which imagines and builds towards a future beyond the carceral state. Life-saving economic reform such as universal rent cuts, significant pay increase and reduced working hours as well as the economic recognition of caregiving and household labour would give us the capacity to connect with our neighbours and strengthen our community bonds. 

Lovingly sharing knowledge and skills allows us to resolve conflicts within our communities and understand that nothing is not our problem – we must take on issues collectively and share the burden. With common radical empathy, we can solve problems together rather than waiting until a problem affects us to care. We can find a sense of safety in each other by abolishing the cop in our minds. Abolition means that no one is disposable and envisions a world where everyone is provided for, healthcare is unconditionally accessible and we are all equipped to emotionally support and nurture each other. 

Our Abolition reading group meets once a month. Everyone is welcome, whether you’re a seasoned abolitionist organiser or just beginning to get interested in a world without borders and prisons. Email s.det.sup@gmail.com to get involved. 

SDS is Recruiting!

SOAS Detainee Support attempts to break the isolation of immigration detention, and supports people to take control of their cases and resist their imprisonment and deportation.  Our vision is a world with no borders or incarceration.

We are currently recruiting two part-time coordinators to facilitate the group’s support for individuals in immigration detention, and strengthen the group’s impact in challenging the current immigration and detention system.

Each role is 14 hours per week, paid £12ph, fixed term for 12 months. We are recruiting for two positions, one starting in June and the other in August.

The application pack with details on how to apply can be found here.

Deadline for applications is 10am on Wednesday 19th May.

If you have any questions or accessibility needs you would like to discuss, please don’t hesitate to email us on s.det.sup.jobs@gmail.com 

SDS statement on the Bristol Protest

On Sunday, 21st March 2021, the police in Bristol responded to protests with horrific violence. We condemn both the police’s use of violence and brutality towards protesters as well as anyone that has attempted to delegitimise the #KillTheBill protests by denouncing violent protests.

SDS applauds and are in solidarity with all those who protested this weekend to live a life free from state violence. We will not be distracted by accusations of violent protesters when it is the state, poverty, underfunded healthcare, the police, detention centres, and prisons that are the most violent systems in place. These two forms of violence are incomparable, and we should not pretend that they are anything but. This is a gross oversimplification that lacks the understanding of the powers of the state.

The anger that the protesters showed in the streets this weekend was reflective of a larger anger in the UK that is boiling over at the betrayal of the system. Day by day, people are realising, as police brutality continues, the economy gets worse; community spaces continue to disappear; the government continues to put Black and Brown people into cages for profit; and homelessness gets worse and worse, that this system is failing us because it was not made for us.

The police’s violence towards people last night is not unique and highlights a disturbing pattern of behaviour of manhandling, brutalising and abusing their power in not just protest situations but day-to-day policing. Heavy surveillance has been normalised, and the hostile environment is deeply embedded in institutions we are meant to trust and rely on. The government has enacted numerous policies through Immigration Acts and Counter-Terrorism laws over the last two decades that have enabled the border and the police to intrude our homes, our schools, health care services and workplaces in the guise of public safety. In such a system, we can not afford for the police powers to be expanded upon as proposed by the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Court Bill.

SDS refuses to partake in this arbitrary division of any form of resistance as either ‘peaceful’ (those deserving to be heard) or ‘violent’ (those that are deemed illegitimate). Much of the commentary on denouncing the ‘violence’ at the protest in Bristol appears to be referring to the damage to police property. In the context of decades of police violence and misuse of power, from racist stop and search practises, sexual violence, to deaths in custody, it is inappropriate and misleading to equate this with property damage. When the government attempts to tear away our right to peaceful protest, the smashing of police windows is a legitimate response. The government looks at us with disdain – do they expect us to sit idly by? The #KillTheBill movement demands that the police be stripped of the power that we have seen them abuse time and again. Policing is the crisis, not the resistance against it.

There is no justice in borders, prisons or policing. Only the full abolition of these systems will bring us the justice and the safety that we need. When we say no justice, no peace, we mean no justice, no peace.

The Barracks: a new form of immigration detention

Since September 2020, hundreds of people have been detained at army barracks in Kent and Pembrokeshire. The Home Office uses the word ‘housed’ but if we listen to the voices of those inside the barracks, and those who have experienced immigration detention, it becomes clear that living in the barracks is akin to being locked up in a prison. 

At SDS, we support people in immigration detention to take control of their cases and resist their imprisonment and deportation. Judging from our experience of standing in solidarity with people who have been detained, we feel it is only right to name what is going on at the barracks as another form of incarceration. 

By amplifying the voices of people living in the barracks, we strip away the Home Office’s facade that the barracks are suitable accommodation for people who have escaped war, persecution and poverty. SDS recently received a voice note from someone who spent months living in the Napier Barracks. His words speak volumes:

‘I left the camp three days ago. There were no arrangements at all. I took a Covid-19 swab 2 days before leaving and it was negative. We were all waiting and praying for our turn to come for the next relocation. I left to a hotel located in London and I’ve been here for three days. We don’t know how long we will be staying here, but this place is a lot better than the one before. It was like a prison. No one told me what would happen next or how long we will be staying here. Of course, uncertainty and the ambiguity of the future affects our sanity, mental health, and overall our general health. There is anxiety and fear of the future. We hope the future becomes more clear so these anxious thoughts and fears come to an end. In this place, my mental health has improved a lot. A lot better than when I was detained in the camp. We hope things get better for the rest of us as well.’

Throughout the harsh winter months, hundreds of people have been held in these inhumane, unsanitary conditions in army barracks in Kent and in Wales. The barracks have been declared unsuitable for accommodation by planning and environmental experts. There is a lack of drinking water and heating, poor plumbing, and it has been impossible to maintain social distancing as dozens of people share a room. In the barracks, people do not get adequate legal support nor healthcare, and they have no idea how long they have to stay there.

A right-wing politics of hate has led to the horrors we see at the barracks. In recently leaked documents, it was uncovered that holding people in the squalid conditions in the barracks was, in fact, a political decision. The Home Office moved people to the barracks after far-right groups disagreed with housing asylum seekers in hotels. This government already strips those who cross borders to get here of their humanity,  and far-right propaganda bolsters this by justifying these substandard living conditions.

If the far-right’s voice is loud enough to influence government policy, we need to be louder. Collective actions help to highlight the horrors of what happens in immigration detention. From protests to hunger strikes, people held in immigration detention centres in the UK have always risen up and resisted their own imprisonment. We see this defiant fervour from those currently held the barracks. They have gone on hunger strike and held loud, colourful protests with banners and chants. 

Many of us are standing in solidarity with those protesting their imprisonment in the barracks. Hundreds joined Lesbian and Gays Support the Migrants’s online rally last week to hear speakers such as Zarah Sultana MP. Petitions by Freedom from Torture and Detention Action’s email your MP online tool to demand the closure of the barracks are also examples of ways we can stand with people held there. These collective actions shed light on the injustices happening at the barracks and make it harder for the home office to continue its brutal treatment of  people living in this country. 

In recent weeks, the fight against immigration detention has had some success. Plans to ‘house’ asylum seekers at Yarl’s Wood in prison-like camps were axed thanks to persistent campaigning by locals and anti-detention groups. Now we must take this campaigning to the next level. We must insist that camps, detention centers and prisons of all kinds be closed. We must demand that suitable accommodation within the community be provided to all asylum-seekers and that they should have the right to move freely and safely, with full access to legal support and healthcare.

Our movement must strengthen our solidarity with all people in detention and fight to abolish the whole detention system. As abolitionists, we must work towards a world where no one is stripped of their freedom,  regardless of  immigration status.  We urge everyone to listen to and amplify the voices of those who are detained by taking action to close the barracks, in whichever way you can, and to ultimately fight for a world with no borders and no prisons.

From Prisons to Immigration Detention: Abolish the Carceral State!

SOAS Detainee Support is a grassroots abolitionist group. A vision of a world without borders or prisons is at the centre of everything we aim to do. 

We recognise that the border and the prison are not just a line or a building out of sight; they are systems that permeate our daily lives through surveillance and punishment in our schools, universities and workplaces. These two systems, the border and the prison, are not separate. They are overlapping, mutually supportive regimes of violence and control that categorise and divide people into “innocent” (the citizen, the victim of a crime) and “guilty” (the “illegal” migrant, the “criminal”). 

As abolitionists, we don’t want a migrants rights movement that only fights for the “legal” non-criminal migrant, and we don’t want a prison abolitionist movement that only fights for the imprisoned “citizen”. We want an abolitionist movement that fights for a world without violence, where every person, regardless of who they are or where they were born, can move freely and live with dignity.

At SDS, we’re starting a reading group to learn more about the interconnected history of the border and the prison, as well as the rich history of struggle against these systems, in the UK and elsewhere. 

The colonial history of policing and prisons

The oppressive structures of policing, prisons and borders were born out of the systems of colonialism, racism and economic exploitation. Racial categories were weaponised to justify colonial oppression, while new systems of policing and prisons maintained the empire by disciplining and controlling racialised people. During colonial rule in Jamaica the British experimented with a national prison service half a century before the first national penitentiary – Millbank – was built in the UK in 1821. After the abolition of slavery in the Caribbean, the British established police forces and built up mass incarceration as a way to control the black population. In India and the Caribbean the British established police forces with the title ‘Imperial’ in their name. After independence, the police forces changed their name but the personnel and training regimes remained the same. And in Canada, the creation of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) was motivated by the need to control the Indigenous population.  It is not a coincidence that the exclusionary systems developed in the colonies were then used in the UK against those who fell outside the narrow definition of being ‘British’.

We can see this legacy of racial and colonial oppression in the UK, and its former colonies such as Canada and Australia, with black and brown communities overrepresented in all levels of the criminal process, from stop and searches to imprisonment. So-called ‘foreign nationals offenders’ are treated more punitively than their British counterparts: they spend more time in confinement, they are given longer custodial sentences and they are often detained and deported after their sentence finishes. Migrant communities also face policing and punishment in everyday life. They are often denied access to healthcare, education and decent housing. In the most recent weeks we have seen migrants being ‘housed’ (i.e. detained) in unsanitary and brutal conditions in former army barracks. The way migrants are treated in the UK today echoes the suppression of racialised people in Britain’s former colonies.

Understanding UK prisons today

In this reading group, we’re aiming to focus on the UK context as much as possible. American abolitionist scholar Ruth Wilson Gilmore teaches us that all struggle is “place-based struggle”, and as a UK-based group, we need to understand the past and present of our own specific context to help our fight to unravel and destroy the border/prison system. 

Books like Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow and Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s Golden Gulag have helped to create a mainstream narrative about prison expansion in the US in the twentieth century. Although groups like Abolitionist Futures are working hard to make resources about UK abolitionist movements more accessible, it’s still harder to find clear narratives of the British prison system over the past hundred years. 

Today, UK and US prisons have many things in common. Both are semi-privatised, often run by the same corporations. Both imprison racialised people and migrants at extremely disproportionate rates. Both have been sites of uprising and revolt, from the 1971 Attica uprising in New York, to the 1990 riot at HMP Strangeways in Manchester. 

But the UK has its own specific political and historical contexts that we, as UK-based abolitionists should seek out and discuss:

  • Why did the UK begin to privatise prisons in the early 1990s? 
  • Why did the UK prison population double between 1993 and 2010, in an era which also saw the massive expansion of the immigration detention system? 
  • How does British imperialism still linger in its carceral experiments, from internment in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, to David Cameron’s 2015 promise to spend £25 million on a new prison in Jamaica
  • Where, when and how did activist groups fight these systems and imagine other kinds of justice and care in their communities? 

We hope that thinking through these and other questions will help us better understand how to wage our own struggles against UK border and prison systems. 

No Borders, No Prisons

The case of Osime Brown, an autistic young man who finished his prison sentence and is being threatened with deportation to Jamaica where he left when he was 4, demonstrates the injustice and racism of this system. There are many more like him. Young black men who have committed ‘crimes’ (Osime was imprisoned under joint enterprise – a contentious legality) and are being doubly punished by being deported. In December 2020 the Home Office attempted to deport 50 people, who had finished prison sentences, to Jamaica. However, as Priti Patel and the Home Office continues to deprive migrants of their rights, resistance to their cruelty grows. The family of Osime Brown and grassroots activists have built a strong campaign to stop his deportation and thanks to the powerful campaigning by anti-deportation and detention groups, only 13 out of the 50 people were deported to Jamaica in December. To ensure more campaigns like this are successful depends on how well the movement can deconstruct the Home Office’s rhetoric that migrants should be criminalised. 

The migrant rights movement often uses the dichotomy of ‘good migrant’ vs. ‘bad migrant’ claiming asylum seekers are ‘not criminals’. However the UK government has a history of adjusting the threshold of what a ‘criminal’ is. Creating new policies that expands the criminalisation and punishment of those who are not deemed ‘British’ enough. To successfully fight for liberation for all we need to insist on dismantling the UK’s criminal justice system which stems from British colonialism. For a truly anti-racist and anti-colonial migrant justice movement to flourish it must be abolitionist. 

Our next reading group will take place on Friday, 5th February 2021 at 5:30. We will be discussing Chapter 8 of Lola Olufemi’s Feminism, Interrupted. Everyone is welcome, whether you’re a seasoned abolitionist organiser or just beginning to get interested in a world without borders and prisons. Email s.det.sup@gmail.com to get involved. 

SDS is Recruiting

SOAS Detainee Support attempts to break the isolation of immigration detention, and supports people to take control of their cases and resist their imprisonment and deportation.  Our vision is a world with no borders or incarceration.

We are currently recruiting two part-time coordinators to facilitate the group’s support for individuals in immigration detention, and strengthen the group’s impact in challenging the current immigration and detention system.

Each role is 14 hours per week, paid £12ph, fixed term for 12 months. We are recruiting for two positions, one starting late June (approximately 22nd June) and the other late September.

The application pack with details on how to apply can be found here.

Deadline for applications is 6PM Friday, 8th May, 2020. 

If you have any questions or accessibility needs you would like to discuss, please don’t hesitate to email us on s.det.sup.jobs@gmail.com 


Detained Voices in a time of Corona

There is no social distancing here

Can you tell me about your experience of detention?

I have been in Brook House detention centre for 16 months. I came from prison. I thought I was going to be released but then they brought me here to brook house. I was given a mobile phone, there was a tv and so everything felt better at the start. And then after 6 months I started getting bored and I start stressing about my life and day by day.

3 months ago in November, I had been a year. I started tripping. My hand started sweating, I couldn’t sleep and I felt hot. There was something I hadn’t felt before. I couldn’t get the thoughts of getting me out of this place out of my head. It was like this one year of detention was building up in my head, and exploded in my mind. It was the sort of experience I had never had before. It was something in me that felt like that. I tried everything, sleeping on the floor but nothing was working. They gave me paracetamol and some medicine called calms. And since that day, I am not the same person. Now small things really get to me. My short term memory is shot. Some old term memory is cloudy and dazy.

Link to full piece:There is no social distancing here



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if I can’t dance, it’s not my revolution!

Come and join SDS for our annual fundraiser and party for free movement. Tickets available now: https://soasdetaineesupport.eventsmart.com/events/release-xxi/

Line up

Sam Siva
brother portrait

Sam Dotia
Jelly Cleaver


Practical Info
When: 23rd November 7.30pm – 3am
Where: Arcola Theatre, Dalston E8 3DL
Free for those affected by detention / asylum regime
Tickets will be £4-£12+
If you can afford a solidarity ticket please do buy one!
Nobody will be turned away due to lack of funds- please get in touch with s.det.sup@gmail.com or book a free ticket using the link above.
Beautiful, limited edition SDS merch will be sold throughout the night. all proceeds will go to us!
The venue is wheelchair accessible, and a safer spaces policy will be in place on the night

SDS buddies will be easily identifiable on the night to support with anything that makes you feel uncomfortable/unsafe – or just if you’re coming alone and want a friendly face to welcome you

The venue has (some) gender neutral toilets.

If you have any other access needs you want to discuss, get in touch on s.det.sup@gmail.com