Prison reform on the path to prison abolition

corrections[Activist Olive McRae submitted this article to Socialist Review, and we were happy to print it in our latest issue. Nationals announcement last week of more plans for working prisons gives the article an added relevance and urgency. You can subscribe to Socialist Review here.]

“Those of us that identify as prison abolitionists as opposed to prison reformers, make the point that often reforms create situations where mass incarceration becomes even more entrenched and so therefore we have to think about what in the long run will produce decarceration, fewer people behind bars, and hopefully eventually in the future the possibility of imagining a landscape without prisons, where other means are used to address issues of harm. Where social problems such as illiteracy and poverty do not lead vast numbers of people along a trajectory that leads to prison.

In 1971  when the Attica rebellion took place, it was a really important moment in the history of mass incarceration, the history of the prison in this country. The prisoners who were the spokespeople for the uprising indicated that they were struggling for a world without prison. During the 1970s the notion of prison abolition became very important, in fact public intellectuals, judges, journalists, took it very seriously and began to think about alternatives.

However in the 1980s, with the dismantling of social services, structural adjustments and the rise of global capitalism, we began to see prison emerging as a major institution to address the problems that were produced by industrialization, lack of jobs, less funding in education, lack of education, the closure of systems designed to assist people who had mental and emotional problems, and now of course the prison system is also a psychiatric facility.

The question is, how does one address the needs of prisoners by instituting reforms that are not going to create a stronger prison system.” – Angela Davis (Val’s Show, 2014).

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