Inmates in Discussion © 2009 Ged Murray

It might be that the anniversary of the most famous riot in the history of the British prison system will become an annual feature on Prison Photography?

Last year, I noted the 19th anniversary of the Strangeways Riot with looks at the work of Ged Murray and Don McPhee. This year for the big 20, I’ll point you in the direction of Ciara Leeming, fellow blogger, Northerner and Thatcher-basher. (Why is it that we children of the late seventies/early eighties can’t get out from under the iron lady’s shadow?)

Ciara:

For 25 days in April 1990, the authorities lost control of Manchester’s iconic Victorian jail and inmates took to the roof to protest against poor conditions and abusive staff. Chronic overcrowding, a lack of sanitation in the cells, frequent moves from one prison to another and poor visitation rights were among their complaints. When it all kicked off there were 1,600 men sharing 970 single cells. A series of copycat protests followed in a number of other UK jails. At Strangeways, the numbers quickly dwindled of course and by the last day just five protestors were left.

The riot left the prison in chaos and cost tens of millions of pounds and several years to repair. But more importantly, the protest and the landmark Woolf inquiry which followed it are credited as being a turning point in penal history. Many of Lord Woolf’s recommendations were too radical for the Tory administration and subsequent New Labour government to stomach and the prison population stands far higher today. But conditions at Strangeways – now HMP Manchester – and other prisons are undeniably better than they were on April Fool’s Day two decades ago.

Ciara’s just written a piece for Big Issue in the North, the UK’s magazine sold by homeless vendors in cities up and down the Isle. Download Ciara’s  Big Issue feature here.

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