BCRW recently released a series of four short online videos produced in in conjunction with the upcoming online event No One is Disposable: Everyday Practices of Prison Abolition, co-sponsored by the Sylvia Rivera Law Project. In the videos, activists Reina Gossett and Dean Spade discuss prison abolition as a political framework, exploring why this is a top issue for those committed to supporting trans and gender-nonconforming people. In their discussions, Reina and Dean quickly run through quite a few people, organizations, and concepts that are fundamental to the diverse and ever-expanding prison abolition movement. I created this blog post to serve as a reference for the videos and discussion, to provide broader context as well as a starting point for further exploration of the prison abolition movement.
What is the “prison industrial complex”?
Here is a definition of the prison industrial complex, often referred to as the PIC, as defined by Communities Against Rape and Abuse (PDF):
“The prison industrial complex (PIC) refers to a massive multi-billion dollar industry that promotes the exponential expansion of prisons, jails, immigrant detention center, and juvenile detention centers. The PIC is represented by corporations that profit from incarceration, politicians who target people of color so that they appear to be “tough on crime,” and the media that represents a slanted view of how crime looks in our communities. In order to survive, the PIC uses propaganda to convince the public how much we need prisons; uses public support to strengthen harmful law-and-order agendas such as the “War on Drugs” and the “War on Terrorism”; uses these agendas to justify imprisoning disenfranchised people of color, poor people, and people with disabilities; leverages the resulting increasing rate of incarceration for prison-related corporate investments (construction, maintenance, goods and services); pockets the profit; uses profit to create more propaganda.”
The Prison Culture blog has a useful compilation of various definitions for the PIC.
Who are prison abolitionists?
Prison abolitionists are political activists who share the goal of eliminating the “security culture” of imprisonment, policing, and surveillance and creating lasting alternatives to punishment and imprisonment. Abolitionists stress that the prison industrial complex is not an isolated system (this documentary, The House I Live In, traces the privatization of US prisons and the connections between prisons’ massive profits and the “War on Drugs”). In order to effect real and sustainable change we must call for not only the abolition of prison cages, but also the reorder of a society and culture dependent on security, criminality, and punishment. Prison abolitionists challenge us to change the way we think about who is free and who is not. As Reina and Dean discuss, abolition is both a practical organizing tool and a long-term goal. (Much of this information is drawn from the definition provided on the Critical Resistance website.)
Who are Reina and Dean talking about in No One is Disposable?
- Critical Resistance is an abolitionist national grassroots organization established in 1997.
- INCITE! is a “nation-wide network of radical feminists of color working to end violence against women, gender non-conforming, and trans people of color” and their communities founded in 2000. INCITE! supports the abolitionist movement. The grassroots organization also a valuable set of anti-violence activist resources on their website, as well as a regularly updated blog.
- This is the statement on gendered violence and the prison industrial complex (PDF) that Reina mentions, which was co-authored by Critical Resistance and INCITE! in 2001.
- Rose Braz co-founded Critical Resistance. Here’s a short bio on her work with Critical Resistance, and the environmental activism she pursues now.
- Andrea Ritchie is an attorney and served as a prominent member of INCITE! from 2003-2008 and co-authored Queer (In)Justice. Here’s a short bio on her career.
- Safe Outside the System Collective is an “anti-violence program led by and for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Two Spirit, Trans, and Gender Non Conforming people of color.” The collective is dedicated to reducing hate and police violence by developing alternative community responses and solutions to violence and diminishing a reliance on police intervention. SOS Collective is an anti-violence, anti-police violence, prison abolition sub group of the Audre Lorde Project.
- Audre Lorde Project is a “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Two Spirit, Trans and Gender Non Conforming People of Color center for community organizing, focusing on the New York City area,” which works for community wellness and progressive social and economic justice.
- Ruth Gilmore is a professor of geography at CUNY and a well-known social activist who co-founded Critical Resistance, also working with INCITE! and other activist organizations. Here’s a short bio of her career.
Who else is part of the prison abolition movement, and where can I learn more?
There are many, many prison abolition and anti-violence activists and activist organizations doing valuable work in communities. Here is a brief and incomplete list of prominent abolitionists and abolition organizations with links to their websites, if they have them. I was able to find a wealth of resources, information, and opportunities for activism from their diverse perspectives.
- Angela Davis is perhaps the most recognizable prison abolitionist in activism and academia today. She helped co-found Critical Resistance, and her book, Are Prisons Obsolete?, makes the case for prison abolition in the US.
- Prison Culture is a blog dedicated to documenting the prison industrial complex and security culture in the US. The blog posts regularly about current developments in prison culture, and has a detailed list of recommendations for further reading as well as a compilation of helpful and easily digestible visualizations of commonly cited statistics.
- Black and Pink is a prison abolitionist community of LGBT prisoners and their supporters. In addition to their advocacy work, Black and Pink has a prisoner penpal program, offer to give workshops on prison abolition and LGBT prisoners, and are even offering an online class on prison abolition and the LGBT prisoner experience.
- Prison Activist Resource Center provides a huge expanse of resources for prisoners and activists alike in addition to its documentation of happenings in the movement.
- The Prisoner Correspondence Project is a penpal support project for LGBT prisoners. Check out their further reading list.
- Prison Justice is a Canadian collaboration of four prison abolitionist organizations. Their website has extensive lists of resources for both prisoners and activists in the US and Canada.
- Women Prisoners Association “is a service and advocacy organization committed to helping women with criminal justice histories realize new possibilities for themselves and their families.” The website’s resource page provides links to online publications, an activist toolkit, and other websites.
Do prison abolitionists tweet?
If you are looking to enrich your twitter feed with prison abolitionists, check out these twitter accounts, many of which are run by some of the organizations and activists I’ve listed above.
- Follow Prison Culture @prisonculture
- Follow Critical Resistance @C_Resistance
- Follow the Women’s Prison Association @WPA_NYC
- Follow INCITE! @incitenews
- Follow Project NIA @projectnia
- Follow Reina Gossett @reinagossett
- Follow Dean Spade @deanspade
- Follow the Sylvia Rivera Law Project @SRLP
- Follow the Audre Lorde Project @audrelorde
- Follow The House I Live In @DrugWarMovie
Carly Crane is a junior at Barnard College and a Research Assistant at the Barnard Center for Research on Women.