it is virtually twenty years ago to the day that a riot started at Strangeways prison on the outskirts of Manchester city centre (no one i know calls it by its newer official name of Manchester, in the same way that HM Prison Birmingham is really just Winson Green).
i should probably explain the issues myself as, to be honest, i was living about seven miles southwest of the jail at the time in the Trafford suburbs so you might think i'd be paying close attention.
alas not, although, to be fair, i was then aged ten and somewhat obsessed with the build-up to Italia '90, so i'll let the internet do the leg-work.
as the thoroughly-sourced and level-headed wiki explains, it was a watershed moment in modern British justice:
The riot sparked a series of disturbances in prisons across England, Scotland and Wales, resulting in the British government announcing a public inquiry into the riots headed by Lord Woolf. The resulting Woolf Report concluded that conditions in the prison had been intolerable, and recommended major reform of the prison system. The Guardian newspaper described the report as a blueprint for the restoration of "decency and justice into jails where conditions had become intolerable".
the entry explains the background to these events:
Prisoners felt their complaints about conditions were being ignored. Remand prisoners were only allowed out of their cells for 18 hours per week, and Category A prisoners were locked in their cells for 22 hours a day, and rarely left their cells except for "slopping out", a one-hour exercise period each day or a weekly shower. In March 1990, Dominic Noonan was transferred from Strangeways to HM Prison Hull. Noonan was the organiser of the Prisoners' League Association (PLA), an organisation formed in 1989 which campaigned for prisoners' rights. Its aims included initiating legal proceedings against prison staff for mistreatment of prisoners, and picketing outside prisons in which prisoners were mistreated. The PLA were active at Strangeways Prison, and Noonan's transfer demonstrates prison officers were aware of rising tensions inside the prison. On 26 March, Barry Morton was taken to the "punishment block" and strip-searched after being visited by his mother, as prison officers believed she had brought drugs into the prison for him. During a struggle he sustained a black eye and swollen nose, and the following day he was released back into the main prison along with another prisoner, Tony Bush. Later the same day, Bush and Morton climbed onto the roof of the prison and staged a twenty-hour rooftop protest. On 31 March there was a 30-minute sit-down protest in the chapel after a film was shown, which ended after a prison officer promised to listen to the prisoners' grievances. The same evening it is reported that a black prisoner was assaulted by prison officers in front of other prisoners, and injected with Largactil – a sedative used to control prisoners, known in prisons as the "liquid cosh". Prisoners then decided to stage a further protest in the chapel the following day, 1 April.
Toby McDonald and John Ingham were the writers featured in a archive Express newspaper piece in the Express magazine recently (March 27th, 2010) covering the disturbances (not online).
the archived piece in the magazine is featured under the heading LAWLESS BRITAIN.
it's not clear whether that is an original newspaper headline of the time, or a current magazine insertion.
it's certainly a big theme for the paper in recent years, along with the disingenuous broken Britain stuff that the Tory party and some of their media supporters push quite forcefully.
this Monday 2nd April 1990 piece for the paper describes rumours from prisoners who had been taken out of the prison as the disturbances took hold: speaking of up to 12 inmate deaths, of mutilated bodies as non-sex offender inmates (which obviously covers many crimes, and therefore, many inmates) attacked sex offender inmates, that a fire was started to burn the bodies of dead inmates by the inmate killers, and other terrible details. it seems clear this original report is fingering the prejudice of the majority of inmates against paedophile etc inmates (a notoriously unpopular category of inmate as many in society know, let alone just prisoners, to be sure) as the apparent reason for the riot.
obviously, this speculation turned out to be very, very wrong.
the Express wasn't alone in getting its early thoughts rather jumbled (to say the least), as the 'Media reaction' section of the above wiki makes clear.
and perhaps in a few days there may be a big think piece in the paper assessing the impact and legacy these disturbances had on the British penal system in a thoughtful, balanced and mature way; the riot was essentially a political act, after all.
but because of the highly regressive attitude the Express has toward crime and punishment and justice in the UK, i am not holding my breath.
incidentally, do check out this piece, which demolishes some recent Express cobblers about immigrants and the NHS; just one example of how this - largely - complete excuse for a paper (very slight saving graces are the TV critic, some of the sports writers, and the cartoons page) continues to chat the most malign, generally unfounded garbage, fuelling resentment and fear.
oh, and here's another very recent piece concerning a woeful attempt at another FOREIGNERS 'story' of theirs being comprehensively fisked.
in other news, Yank electrical goods chain store Best Buy is to open in the UK.
Essex will be the first location, apparently, followed by sites in Southampton, Liverpool, the west midlands, and Croydon.
this pleases me.