Abolition has long history throughout the world. It is both the theory and action of eliminating repressive and exploitive institutions and practices like slavery or the death penalty. Today, abolition has expanded to many spaces of dispossession and violence from border control and anti-immigration laws, child welfare and apprehensions, youth detention, school to prison pipeline, prisons and other carceral violences and controls.
Abolition seeks to dismantle the structures and logics that are linked to the carceral and how these continue to be reproduced throughout current criminal justice arrangements. For example, the various forms of carceral control to which Black and Indigenous women are contained, such as rape, reproductive control strategies and domestic violence, are integral to the forms of state control that they have been subject to throughout colonial history.
By exposing the pervasive and fluid character of the carceral, abolition also seeks to challenge the many ways that carceral violence and control are normalized and offer different possibilities for thinking about justices; ones that are inclusive and that stand outside of or against our current one.
Nine Perspectives for Prison Abolitionists
Imprisonment is morally reprehensible and indefensible and must be abolished. In an enlightened free society, prison cannot endure or it will prevail. Abolition is a long term goal; an ideal. The eradication of any oppressive system is not an easy task. But it is realizable, like the abolition of slavery or any liberation, so long as there is the will to engage in the struggle.
The message of abolition requires “honest” language and new definitions. Language is related to power. We do not permit those in power to control our vocabulary. Using “system language” to call prisoners “inmates” or punishment “treatment”, denies prisoners the reality of their experience and makes us captives of the old system. Our own language and definitions empower us to define the prison realistically.
Abolitionists believe reconciliation, not punishment, is a proper response to criminal acts. The present criminal (in)justice systems focus on someone to punish, caring little about the criminal’s need or the victims loss. The abolitionist response seeks to restore both the criminal and the victim to full humanity, to lives of integrity and dignity in the community. Abolitionists advocate the least amount of coercion and intervention in an individual’s life and the maximum amount of care and services to all people in the society.
Abolitionists work with prisoners but always remain “non-members” of the established prison system. Abolitionists learn how to walk the narrow line between relating to prisoners inside the system and remaining independent and “outside” that system. We resist the compelling psychological pressures to be “accepted” by people in the prison system. We are willing to risk pressing for changes that are beneficial to and desired by prisoners. In relating to those in power, we differentiate between the personhood of system managers (which we respect) and their role in perpetuating an oppressive system.
Abolitionists are “allies” of prisoners rather than traditional “helpers.” We have forged a new definition of what is truly helpful to the caged, keeping in mind both the prisoner’s perspective and the requirements of abolition. New insights into old, culture-laden views of the “helping relationship” strengthen our roles as allies of prisoners.
Abolitionists realize that the empowerment of prisoners and ex-prisoners is crucial to prison system change. Most people have the potential to determine their own needs in terms of survival, resources and programs. We support self-determination of prisoners and programs which place more power in the hands of those directly affected by the prison experience.
Abolitionists view power as available to each of us for challenging and abolishing the prison system. We believe that citizens are the source of institutional power. By giving support to “or withholding support from” specific policies and practices, patterns of power can be altered.
Abolitionists believe that crime is mainly a consequence of the structure of society. We devote ourselves to a community change approach. We would drastically limit the role of the criminal (in)justice systems. We advocate public solutions to public problems “greater resources and services for all people”.
Abolitionists believe that it is only in a caring community that corporate and individual redemption can take place. We view the dominant culture as more in need of “correction” than the prisoner. The caring communities have yet to be built.
from Instead of Prisons: A Handbook for Abolitionists