In 1990, the inmates of Strangeways prison began the longest riot in British penal history. Once revered as a “last bastion of discipline,” the prison stood as the largest penitentiary in England, holding around 900 men at full capacity. By 1990, a peak of over 1,600 prisoners had been confined within its walls, becoming a ‘human warehouse’ with a dangerous guard-to-prisoner ratio. It was the perfect environment for revolt to fester, with cries for justice from disenfranchised men being inevitably ignored. Inmates began to talk of revolt, one specifically, Paul Taylor, who became the ring-leader of such discussions. Taylor was confined in an attempt to silence his protest but paradoxically, it was there he met Alan Lord, the second ring-leader of the riot, and the two began to plan their systemic overthrow.
On April 1st , Taylor interrupted a church service, rallying his fellow inmates. Prisoners swarmed the guards, who retreated fearing for their lives, and attained possession of the keys. From this point, the prison was overtaken, thus beginning the complete authoritative breakdown which resulted in twenty-five days of enclosed anarchy. Rioters took to the rooftops, throwing slate and other such materials. By the end of the first week, many prisoners had grown bored, but a core of protesters remained consolidated on the roof. Unsurprisingly, the siege generated immense media attention, leading Taylor to deliver a rooftop speech, attempting to make the public aware of the terrible conditions which had resulted from the immense overcrowding. He was once again silenced in a poignant display of ignorance and corruption as law enforcement used sirens to drown out his protest. In defiance, signs were made which exposed the layers of inhumane occurrences to the media and crowds.
‘The power’ by SNAP! became the anthem of rebellion as speakers were brought onto the roof. Inmates were dancing, singing and frying steaks on the metaphorical grave of penal authority as beneath them lay millions of pounds worth of damages. Enforcement measures were upped and Lord, viewed as the “lynchpin” of the operation, was returned to lawful authority, resulting in the beginning of the end. Large fires were started and the established stalemate broke. On the 25th of April, the five remaining protesters conceded. Both Lord and Taylor had ten years added to their sentences and within the 25 days, 2 people had been killed and 194 injured.
The riot placed the system under a microscope and generated a wave of protests across the country. This resulted in the Woolf inquiry of Strangeways, which concluded that reform was desperately needed. Consequently, ‘slopping out’ ended and an ombudsman became necessary. Today, it is estimated that 71/118 European prisons remain overcrowded.