J o u r n a l o f P r i s o n e r s o n P r i s o n s
"My Regional Reception assessment Centre Handbook informs me I will be here for ten to fourteen weeks,
during which time I will be evaluated, assessed, analyzed, tested, probed, and profiled.
A team of IPOs, CO2s, psychologists and unit managers will collect, collate, graph, and
interpret the data. They will determine risk factors, crime cycles, pen placement,
treatment programs and how much fibre I will need in my diet. It could be argued, and
convincingly, that this is the evolution of penology."
-Stephen Reid, from JPP Vol. 11 (2001)
The JPP grew out of presentations at the International Conference on
Penal Abolition (ICOPA) III held in Montreal in 1987, where participants
were concerned with the lack of prisoner representation. It subsequently emerged in 1988,
and has since published over 20 issues featuring prison writers from many different
countries who discuss a broad range of topics pertaining to imprisonment. Articles are used
regularly in university courses, and are frequently reprinted in books and cited in
academic works. Readership includes prisoners, former prisoners, activists, academics,
and community and justice workers amongst many others. The editorial board that produces
and manages the journal is composed of university professors, and current and former
prisoners who voluntarily contribute time and effort. The JPP is
funded through subscriptions and sales, and is not dependent on any outside
sources. It is currently published through the University of Ottawa Press
in a biannual format. Many past contributors have received awards for their
writing (e.g. PEN) and also have gone on to publish books.
Writing as Resistance: The JPP Anthology 1988-2002 (Gaucher, Ed. 2002) won silver
prize, for book of the year in Foreword Magazine’s annual awards in 2002.
Franklin (1998) refers to the 1960s and 1970s as an age of literary renaissance in
American prison writing. A new wave of prison writers. and their literary forms
and styles transcended the traditional classifications, transforming them into a
new prison-focused narrative (See Gaucher;1999). Above all these new forms were
imbued with the political consciousness that came to inform convict culture and the
discourse of convict intellectuals in Western societies. It is this literary tradition
that the Journal of Prisoners on Prisons strives to represent.
The first International Conference on Prison Abolition (ICOPA) was held in Toronto,
Canada in the summer of 1983 (Finateri and Saleh-Hanna, 2000) and drew together
grassroots activists, radical academics, NGOs, and a solid representation of prisoners.
ICOPA II was held in Amsterdam in 1985 and was much more academic in its program and
participation. A group of Canadians - Claire Culhane, Art Solomon, Ruth Morris, Liz
Elliott, Howard Davidson, and myself - discussed the lack of representation of grassroots
activists and prisoners, and this discussion resulted in ICOPA III being jointly hosted
by the Universite de Montreal and Universite d'Ottawa at the Universite de Montreal,
Canada. In redressing the perceived imbalance of ICOPA II, we included strong
participation in the program of grassroots organizations such as Anarchist Black
Cross groups and the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee, and we were pleased about the
involvement of Art Solomon and Canadian Aboriginal communities. It is difficult to
get prisoners out of prison to attend penal abolition conferences and though we had
some (former) prisoner participation, we extended their participation by presenting
papers written by current prisoners (Davidson, 1988). The positive reception they
received led directly to our broader discussion of the importance of prisoners'
input into official and academic discourse, and eventually the creation of the
Journal of Prisoners on Prisons (JPP). As Howard Davidson noted in the first
volume, "for the prisoners and former prisoners who would welcome an opportunity
to engage in the production of knowledge about crime and punishment, the barriers
to participation remain formidable" (1988, 1:1, 3). The JPP was intended as a vehicle
for the accounts and analysis of prisoners "to bring the knowledge and experience
of the incarcerated to bear upon ... academic arguments and concerns, and to
inform public discourse about the current state of our carceral institutions"
(Gaucher, 1988, 1:1,54). Our intent and expectations for the journal were
informed by penal abolitionist arguments and strategies
(see Culhane, 1979, 1985; Hulsman, 1985; Kneen, 1994; Mathiesen, 1974; Posluns, 1990).
I addressed this intent in my Response to the first issue:
The first issue (1:1)
introduced Jo-Ann Mayhew to the JPP and included
her contribution of our motto, found on the top of this page.
The Editorial Note states:
... if the prison abolitionist argument that the goal and necessity of the outside critic
should be to empower the disenfranchised, then providing the opportunity for prisoners
to state their case, to identify the major problems, and to provide us with up to date
information and analysis about what is actually occurring in our prisons is a necessity.
Amongst the diverse group of the people who serve as the carceral commodity there are many
with extraordinary talents and insights, whose contributions can revitalize this barren
area of study (i.e., corrections). ... as a teacher I am constantly in search of
ethnographic materials which will provide insight to my students and will help to
combat the "monster" stereotypes of the criminalized and incarcerated which dominate
public and academic discourse. So there is clearly a role to be played by prisoners
and a need for them to try and take back a small measure of control of their destinies
by actively engaging the concerned public and by defining the dominant problems of the
current situation (Gaucher 1988; JPP 1:1).
The Editor's Note in the next issue (1:2)
describes one of the first editorial board meetings in which the JPP starts to emerge as a publication:
At the time I envisioned having at least six articles compiled
as a pamphlet for distribution at the conference. This proved to be
too ambitious. The time given to complete the pamphlet did not
adequately account for the conditions under which prisoners must
work. A week before the conference began, I had three papers
from the Prison Education Program and one from Fort Saskatchewan.
Although a pamphlet could not be printed in time, I decided to put these
four articles together under the title "Prisoners on Prison Abolition" and
to present them at a workshop called "Education in Prison: An Abolitionist
The decision was the right one. The papers were well
received. Fifty copies were distributed at the conference; another
seventy-five have been mailed out since. From the comments at
Montreal and based on letters asking for copies, an editorial board
was formed to expand the project into a semi-annual publication
through which prisoners and former prisoners could actively
participate in the development of research about crime, justice,
and the experience and politics of punishment. This first issue
expands on the papers presented at ICOPA; thus its focus is prison
abolition. (Davidson 1988; JPP 1:1)
Over the next two issues, Little Rock Reed ,
Mumia Abu-Jamal , and
Jon Marc Taylor become contributors:
In a pamphlet we use to promote the Journal of Prisoners on
Prisons we highlight our emphasis on publishing a new kind
of research: research which is not about something happening
"out there" but which is a closer look at "where we
are." Much has and will continue to be written about crime
and punishment from a distance. What is needed is the
"insight and analysis of people for whom imprisonment is
or has been the reality of their daily existence." Thus, it
seems appropriate that I should use this space to describe
'where we are' after the publication of the first issue of the
When the Journal was founded there was at best a sense that it was
necessary to create a forum that would encourage a different kind
of dialogue on crime and punishment, a dialogue in which prisoners
and former prisoners would consider "How does this work?" As we move
into the production of the third issue, I believe it is becoming very
clear that if real change is going to take place, there must be a real
change in who has the power to ask and answer questions about how and
why prisons operate as they do. People who have done so much of the
"talking" in the past need to start listening to new voices. There is a
long way to go to create this new dialogue, but the people who are
contributing to the Journal and reading it seem more certain than ever
that this needs to be done. Keeping people informed about 'where we are'
in that process through these notes should contribute to this end (Davidson 1988/89; JPP 1:2).
From JPP (2:1):
Many might question the JPP as not respecting the hurt and harm caused
by certain acts and individuals. These attributions are greatly misplaced, and are addressed in this issue
and developed further in JPP 9:2:
In less than two years we have made the leap from publishing Canadian prisoners' and former prisoners'
research on crime and punishment to including articles from the United States. It is particularly appropriate
that this should occur now when, for the first time, an article appears which provides
a detailed catalogue of the Canadian penal press, along with an analysis of its place in the history
of the international penal press. (Davidson 1989; JPP 2:1).
(1990) focused upon imprisonment of North America's First Nations' people
and featured cover art by Norval Morrisseau and an essay by Arthur Solomon.
...it has been revealing for me to see the reactions of some
people to Claire Culhane's presentations on prison conditions and
prisoner rights. "What about the victims?" they would sometimes ask.
I was always surprised by this response. It is as if a person's concern
about prisoner rights some how means that they do not care about the victims
of crime. This is not to say that prisoner rights should be
safeguarded only for instrumental reasons -- rights must be conferred
on prisoners simply because they are human beings. But in a more
restricted sense it seems to me that victim and prisoner rights are not
mutually exclusive, not a matter of catering unilaterally to one or the
other. To be concerned about what happens to people while they are
in prison is, in part, to be concerned about what happens to them
when they are released. And part of this concern relates to how they
will interact with other people in the aftermath of prison experience.
If all incarceration manages to teach prisoners is how to scam, fight,
and hate, prisons are obviously not doing much to safeguard the
interests of potential victims since, according to this unintended
agenda, the prison plays a central role in reproducing crime. Prisons
victimize prisoner and crime victim alike. It seems difficult to contest
McCormick's conclusion that the prison is an institution by which
society exacts vengeance and little more (Lowman 1989; JPP 2:1).
This issue is powerful in illuminating the catascopic futility of a conventional criminal justice
approach, and showed how their was a real necessity and value in continuing and building the JPP:
(1991) took the form of a double issue and focused upon two related themes-capital punishment
and Prison Justice Day. At this stage, the journal has been established, and started to flourish, gaining a number of regular
contributors who comment about life on the inside from the inside:
The most serious forms of oppression may not be those which we are
quick to name but those which are buried just beneath the surface of our
most commonplace assumptions, our day-to-day beliefs about how the
world operates and how it ought to operate. When these beliefs are
seriously challenged, one can feel quite literally the resistance to accept
what is being said. This is the feeling I experienced when I first read
through the articles collected here, especially the essays by Danny Homer,
Little Rock Reed, and Arthur Solomon. By now I have read them over
many times and I still react to their iconoclastic force.(Davidson 1990; JPP Vol. 2 No. 2).
Howard Davidson completed his sojourn as editor with two thematic issues for Volume 4
(1992-93). The first issue (4:1)
focused upon education programs in prison and is a companion volume to Davidson's research (ed.) (1995)
Schooling in a Total Institution.
even in an issue which intentionally focused on prison abolition
the development of abolitionist theory and practice was a low priority. In my opinion, much research
published in the Journal analyses specefic practices used by prison authorities to keep prisoners
divided, demoralized, and denied basic human rights...Many articles contain explicit recommendations for
prisoners to have the right to design and implement programs which meet needs they (not
the prison authorities or well-meaning reformers) have identified as important. (Davidson, JPP Vol. 3: 1 & 2 ).
The Editorial Note States:
Volume 4:2 focused upon maximum-security prison regimes and the development and spread of
"marionization" across the U.S.A.
"Should we take this popularity for granted? Is there more to this unique phenomenon than
some intuitive recognition that education is essentially good and therefore widely
acclaimed? If you take the time to pursue these questions, one thing soon becomes
clear: with rare exceptions those who write about prison education are not prisoners
or former prisoners. For the most part, it is educators who dominate the discourse.
The tone of their work is somewhat adversarial. Because they suspect or recognize
hostility on the part of guards and 'the public,' they aim to head-off public criticism
and waning political support with reasoned arguments, turning chiefly to the claim that
schooling prisoners can reduce recidivism rates. In this discourse they merely assume
that education is rehabilitative and liberating, a little bit of intellectual freedom
in an otherwise coercive environment. In response to the criticism that schooling fails
to reform, they argue that the mandate of prison schools conflicts with the mandate of
security and the will of the public (Le., retribution); thus, schooling and security
clash, and the weaknesses and failures of prison education are the dire results. Do
prisoner-students see prison education in the same light? Are they asking the same
questions? You cannot know from reading articles in the most prestigious journals
in the field because articles by prisoners are not published there. This issue is
an attempt to overcome the one-sidedness of the discussion on prison education"
(Davidson 1992; JPP 4:1)
This issue was edited from inside the maximum-security penitentiary at Lucasville, Ohio, by
Little Rock Reed, with the help of Lisa Morgan. It analyzes behavior-modification experimentation in the
carceral setting, focusing especially upon the intent of close confinement regimes, and the institutional order and relationships
put into place to achieve them. The contributors to this discourse were serving time in United States Penitentiary Marion,
Illinois, or similar supermaximum facilities:
1993 came with a change in editorial group responsibilities when Bob Gaucher and John Lowman
step in as editors.
"...You will see the workings of brainwashing methodology as it is employed in all
North American Prisons today. But moreover, you will see that
prisoners are not the only people affected. Society at large
is being brainwashed-manipulated by a power elite that is out of control-and the
criminal justice system is the primary instrument of that process.
The key to change lies in our hands. It begins with knowledge-the greatest weapon. To win
a battle against any predatory empire, the oppressed must know their enemy. Just as Dr. Stephen
Chorover can be credited for the substantial amount of Little Rock's politicization, enabling
him to place the actions of his repressive captors into their proper context within the overall
political, social, and economic structure of the United States, so too, those of us who have worked
on this edition of the Journal hope that this edition will wake you up. This edition of the Journal is a
weapon. Use it." (Lisa Morgan & Little Rock Reed; JPP 4:2).
Volume 5:1 introduced Victor Hassine
and included John Perotti's "Sunday Bloody
Sunday" on the Lucasville prison riot and our first report on the fugitive status
of Little Rock Reed.
Gayle Horii and Liz Elliott edited Volume 5:2, which addressed women's imprisonment
It featured Gayle Horii (including photographs of her sculpture and drawing), Jo-Ann Mayhew, Melissa Stewart, and Norma Stafford, among
others. This issue contains an in-depth discussion of the increasingly tumultuous situation at Kingston Prison for Women (P4W),
which eventually led to the Arbour Inquiry (1996) and the closing of this facility in 2001. The events that unfold throughout the 90's at P4W
are also explored in subsequent volumes. The closing words of the Editorial Note read:
In this volume, the voices of women prisoners are diverse, spanning country,
race and socio-economic status. In some cases, the text, including spelling, is
left intact, against the conventions of academic writing. We believe that the literary world will survive the breach of such conventions-
indeed; it will be richer because of it. (Gayle K. Horii & Liz Elliott; JPP 5:2)
The two general issues of Volume 6 (1995) focused upon the current prison conditions and the emerging prison-industrial complex in the
includes Victor Hassine's analysis of prison overcrowding ("Runaway Prison or Mr. Smith Goes to Harisburg")
and James Morse's deconstruction
and exposure of the racial bias of the United States' crime-control industry ("In the Shawdow of the Thirteenth Amendment").
An interview with David Milgaard, conducted at the founding conference of the Association in the Defense of the Wrongly Convicted (AIDWYC) in Toronto, and a major "Prisoners' Struggles" section on capital
punishment in the U.S.A completes Volume 6:1.
In Volume 6:2,
Paul Wright, Jon Marc Taylor, and
Little Rock Reed examine components of the expansion and industrialization of penal control for the "dangerous classes" in the U.S.A., including
three-strike laws, prison labour, and the conspiracy of silence of the industry's elite ACA. The "Response" essay on the Kingston Prison for Women,
"Arbour Inquiry" by Kim Pate (Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies), brought us up to date on the situation at P4W addressed in Volume 5:2 (1994).
Kiernan McEvoy, in Belfast, with the help of Brian MacLean, produced our first European volume (1996-97)
with issues representing Republican and Loyalist political prisoners in Northern Ireland.
Micheal Mac Giolla Ghunna, a Republican prisoner, composed and edited the Republican issue (Volume 7: 1)
MacLean edited the Loyalist issue (Volume 7:2). The breadth of the Republican writing is well represented
in this anthology. John Lowman stepped down as co-editor after this issue.
Volumes 8:1&2 (1997), edited by Bob Gaucher and Curtis Taylor, were dedicated to Claire Culhane, the
Canadian social justice activist for whom "prisons were the best fight in town".
Claire's combative spirit is represented in the issue's discourse on the intended degradation of the incarcerated and the
ultimate expression of that degradation - capital punishment. She stressed the importance of self-awareness and general and political
education for surviving the prison; she relentlessly exposed the careless
disregard for the suicide and self-destruction of Canadian federal women prisoners at P4W, many
with extensive histories of physical, sexual, and social abuse; and she fought against the
stigmatization and abuse experienced by prisoners' families and friends in their interactions with prison authorities.
These issues are all addressed in a volume that features the writing of regular contributors to the JPP
(Steven King Ainsworth, James V. Allridge III, Victor Hassine, Charles Huckelbury, Jo-Ann Mayhew,
Melissa Stewart, and Jon Marc Taylor).
Liz Elliott (replacing John Lowman as co-editor) and Stephen Reid edited Volume 9:1
A general issue, it featured articles by Mumia Abu-Jamal on American law, Thomas
Mann's interview with Donald Marshall, and Ian Miller on Japanese prisons. Little
Rock Reed's continuing battle as a fugitive from "injustice", was detailed in the
"Prisoner's Struggles" section.
the JPP investigates victimization.
The prominence of victims' rights initiatives in the United States and Canada, and
the political use of the "crime" victim issue by police associations, politicians,
political parties, and their allied policy and mass media representatives, prompted
us to do a thematic issue that addressed criminal victimization and criminal justice.
In deconstructing the narratives and political usages of the so-called crime victims'
movement, Paul Wright provides a political economy of the construction and utility of
the "designated crime victim". Charles Huckelbury extends the discourse through his
deconstruction of the ideological and legal contortions lodged in the punitive justice
lobby's claim that prisoners' rights delimit and undermine the rights and care of "crime victims".
The contributors to this issue reorder the working definition of victimization so as to
include victimization by the state and the role of the crime victims' rights initiative in
perpetuating the cycles of violence and inequity that characterize revenge-driven criminal
justice policies. They also note the existing inequities and biases in criminal justice,
which add to the "distributive injustice" that victimizes the disenfranchised and marginalized.
To celebrate our Tenth Anniversary (1999), Volume 10 was devoted to an exploration of the
purposes and understanding that writers in prison bring to their work.
It was dedicated to the memory of long-time contributors, Jo-Ann Mayhew and Robert Brydon. Victor Hassine,
Charles Huckelbury, and Gregory McMaster discuss becoming a writer in prison, and the
understandings and purposes that surrounded their development as observers and writers.
Paul Wright, in "The History of Prison Legal News: The Samizdat of the American Gulag",
discusses the editing and production of PLN as political action. Thomas Mann and Richard
Stratton addressed post-carceral encounters with being a writer "on the street". To
exemplify the spirit of the JPP, Seth Ferranti, Gerald Niles, and Gregory McMaster presented
a "what else can you show me" take-up of the "horrors" of carceral life. All confront the prison
as the dominating context, the reality of their lives, the place of their being and knowing,
the driving force of their art. The punitive criminal justice ideology that presently dominates
public and academic discourse is a focus for their counter-inscriptions and is presented as a
motivating factor in their need to talk back.
With Volume 11 (2001) we came to an agreement with Canadian Scholars' Press Inc., and changed
our production from a biannual to annual status.
Liz Elliott and Jay Jones produced a general issue for this volume that included Stephen Reid
on prisoner classification in the postmodern industrialized prison; Ed Poindexter on the relationship
of stigma, self-esteem, and recidivism; and Gregory McMaster on coping with long-term incarceration.
John McKenzie, Jon Marc Taylor, H.D. Blake, and Charles Huckelbury discuss state repression and the
loss of human rights as it extends from capital punishment for minors, to the police shooting of
Amadou Diallo, and the legitimization of coercive juvenile justice legislation through the punitive
justice lobby's incorrect prediction of escalating youth violence and the emergence of juvenile "superpredators".
A number of themes run through Volume 12 (2002), which includes the journal's first contributions
Debbie Kilroy of Sisters Inside addresses the assaultive nature of strip searches
of women prisoners in Australia. Craig Minogue continues the analysis in "Human Rights and Life as an Attraction in
a Correctional Theme Park", arguing that "it has been routine practice of prison authorities in the
Australian state of Victoria to display prisoners as one would display animals in a zoo". Joe Miceli
(Auburn, New York) extends this vision with suggestions for profit-reaping "Reality TV" shows featuring
prison violence. Karamoko Akpan-Patches and Charles Huckelbury discuss the geopolitics of the prison-industrial
complex. This volume also features an essay by the historian and professor emeritus Peter Brock on the "Prison Samizdat
of British Conscientious Objectors in the First World War".
Volume 13 (2004) revisits the theme of Education in Prisons, and is a comprehensive update to 4:1:
It also introduces the New School of Convict Criminology in an article by Stephen Richards and Jeffrey Ian Ross (2004):
From its inception, the Journal of Prisoners on Prisons has been an educational
project...This is the second issue of the JPP devoted to the study of educational practices
in prisons. Much has changed since the first issue was published in 1992. Twelve years ago,
a multitude of colleges and universities were operating prison higher education programs in Canada and the
United States. Penal authorities were devising means to force prisoners who could not pass reading tests
to attend education classes. By 1992, political pressure was mounting to eliminate grants for higher education even
as support for mandatory basic education was rising...Several essays note the expedient and cynical use of public
opinion to justify dismantling the funding structures that supported prison higher education...Politicians manipulate
a public taught by a corporate media to live in fear of street crime, to associate criminal behavior with people
of colour, and to ignore corporate crime and the terrible price most people of the world pay so a few can get and remain
Yet it is clear from the essays in this issue that there is more to the story than political opportunism.
The educated prisoner is a threat to the penal system, wheather that education is gained through participation in formal
educational programs or through the decision to use prison time to read books (See Richards & Terry, this issue),
because 'Knowledge is indeed power, and it therefore becomes something that must be denied to those one wishes to keep powerless. Thus the logical
strategy for prison administrators is to keep prisoners ignorant to prevent the acquisition of any high-minded ideas, lest we begin
to question our subjugation and treatment'(Huckelbury, this issue). (Davidson & Taylor 2004).
In 2005, the JPP ceases operations with CSPI, and moves to the University of Ottawa Press. With this came internal changes, and
a time of brief transition also marking a return to the bi-annual format.
"In order to appreciate the context of Convict Criminology, it is necessary to understand
the steps taken to arrive at this juncture. Four interrelated movements, factors and methodologies led to the
birth of Convict Criminology; theoretical developments in criminology, the failure of prisons,
the authenticity of insider perspectives, and the centrality of ethnography." (Richards & Ross 2004).
Volume 14:1, is edited by the journals newest
board member Viviane Saleh-Hanna and reveals a great deal about a Nigerian criminal justice system, through the eyes of the issue editor and the accounts and experiences
of Nigerian prisoners. It also represents a departure for the JPP as it is the first attempt to
explore a non-western society. In the Editor in Chief's Introduction, Bob Gaucher explains the significance
of the work:
Volume 14:2 (2006) addresses Aging in Prisons and is edited by Susan Nagelsen and Charles Huckelbury,
who join the JPP as Associate Editors:
...This volume accomplishes more than this through its recognition of the universals of carceral control and penal custom,
and by identifying their reflections in the prison industrial complexes of the control cultures of post-industrial societies like the United States,
United Kingdom and Canada. Though at different stages of capitalist development, the essential dominating characteristics
of carceral control and discipline are shared across cultural time and place...Wheather it's a converted slave holding pen
in West Africa or the sterile world of marionized prisons and Death Row in the United States, the shared characteristics are apparent;
such as the naked force and brutality that underlies the dominating disciplinary power of the carceral; the political
and ideological utility and functionality of penal control within capitalist social formations; the role of the carceral
in the management of class relations relations of their civil societies... (Gaucher 2004; JPP Vol. 14:1)
From the changing nature of dreams, valiant attempts to forestall mental decline, and
thwarted attempts to access education, to the pain of watching children grow up without them, and the
impossibility of recieving adequate care in their declining years, prisoners share the desperation of growing old behind bars. Even in the stultifying
environnment of prison, however, personal growth can and does flourish and prisoners can contribute in many ways. Is the person
who committed a crime in 1965 or 1985 still the same person in 2005?
As history updates itself so shall this page
Given the extremely long sentences being served by a large percentage of prisoners and the philosophical
antagonism to parole in most jurisdictions, it comes as no surprise that prison populations are beginning
to look more like an AARP convention than the gang members featured on investigative shows on the
Arts and Entertainment network. In this volume, men and women relate personal experiences and perspectives
dealing with growing old behind bars. As valid as these essays are, they represent merely the distant
lights of an approaching train...(Nagelsen & Huckelbury 2006; JPP Vol. 14:2)