On February 7, BCRW will be hosting its first ever online event, No One is Disposable, a discussion with activists Dean Spade and Reina Gossett about prison abolition and its intersections with queer and trans movements. Videos featuring discussions between Gossett and Spade, produced by BCRW, are already on the website and they provide the background and context for the conversations of the February event. No One is Disposable and its accompanying videos work to sort out the harmful ramifications and violent nature of the prison industrial complex, specifically for the lives of transgender people.
But what does abolitionism mean for other social justice movements? How does the “prison industrial complex” (PIC) reach into peoples’ lives—both those in and out of jail—and cause harm? This blog post is like a “Part 2” to a post I wrote earlier on the BCRW blog with information and resources for a conversation on prison abolition. Now that we’ve laid the groundwork for action, where will the conversations take us? What could it really mean for our society if no one were disposable?
As a feminist and newbie social activist, I wanted to work out some of the topics involving prison abolition—ending the “War on Drugs,” for instance—for myself: How do feminists, and how do I as a feminist, feel about prison abolition? How does a prison abolitionist perspective and a radical opposition to “prison culture” relate to or possibly enrich more “mainstream” feminist causes like reproductive rights, workforce equality, or anti-rape and anti-abuse campaigns?
When I first started reading prison abolitionists’ blogs and writing, I was struck by their detailed documentation of US “prison culture.” The logic of mass incarceration, I learned, has seeped into our culture. Expanding prisons and booming profits for private companies is either entirely ignored by most of the American public, or quite literally counted as economic growth, entirely disregarding the reality of the human cost—or perhaps accepting it, as dealing in humans is how those invested in the American prison system makes money. A booming American business is a booming American business, right? As this post by Michael Shammas on the Huffington Post points out, there is a (largely unacknowledged) tension between public good and private interests when privatization of the prison system manipulates public mechanisms for private profit. For example:
“Corrections Corporation of America and other private prison companies motivated by higher profit margins have lobbied for mandatory minimums, ‘three-strike’ laws, and ‘truth-in-sentencing’ laws that drive up the prison population. Thus, one man’s incarceration—his ruined life—is another man’s livelihood.”
(For more information on how private prisons make money, check out this article from Salon.com.) As Shammas puts it earlier in his post: “Freedom lost is money gained.”
This is where prison abolitionists go deeper than those who are simply opposed to mass incarceration: these not-quite-abolitionists still maintain there is a place, indeed, a necessity for prisons in our society, and that they belong in the hands of the state rather than a privatized industry. Prison abolitionists, on the other hand, insist that:
- prisons are always already violent;
- that prisons themselves are perpetrators of crimes as bad or worse than those perpetrated by convicted criminals, and;
- that the state’s practice of condoning and implementing imprisonment not only produces and reproduces violence in our society, but makes no impact on ending or preventing crime.