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Prison abolition movement

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prison abolition


Anarchist Black Cross
American Friends Service Committee
No More Prison

Related topics

prisoner rights
prisoner support

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Prison Abolition & Style prison

The aim of the prison abolition movement is to eliminate freedom-depriving institutions such as prisons, jails, immigration detention centers, and war camps by promoting more useful and humane alternatives. Prison abolitionists present a broad critique of the criminal justice system in the west, which they believe is racist, classist, and ineffectual at “reforming” criminals, decreasing crime, or providing redress to the victims of crime. Many people involved in the prison abolition movement are also involved in struggles against other forms of social control and oppression, such as the institutionalization of the schizophrenic, and for this reason the struggle has been associated with anarchism and anti-authoritarianism.


Quakers were one of the first groups to propose alternatives to prison.

Today, the Anarchist Black Cross is one of the major advocates of prison abolition. This network and it's affiliated groups represent a significant part of a largely autonomous prison abolition movement. Much of the larger day-to-day campaigning is being carried forward by either individuals or collectives of five people or fewer.

One such group, Raze The Walls! based in Seattle, Washington, existed nearly ten years before collapsing under the tremendous amount of work, infighting and political differences with other Anarchist formations. While Raze existed, it sent literally thousands of books, zines, and newspaper subscriptions to Prisoners, and financial aid to their families. Much of the material and ideas generated by Raze is still in use today.

Within the Developed World, support for the abolition of prisons has never extended beyond a small minority.

Anarchists in prison abolition[edit]

Historically, anarchists have played a significant part in the prison abolition movement and this trend continues today. Their main reason is their wish to eliminate all forms of state control, of which imprisonment is one of its more obvious examples. Prisons also have a strong link with capitalism, especially in the case of private prisons and prison labor. Anarchism is against prisons largely because they house non-violent offenders, incarcerate mainly poor people or racial minorities, and do not generally rehabilitate criminals, in many cases increasing the number and severity of crimes they commit.

Proposed alternatives[edit]

In place of prisons, anarcho-communists propose community-controlled courts, councils, or assemblies to control the problem of social crime. They also argue that with the destruction of capitalism, and the self-management of production by workers and communities, property crimes would largely vanish.

As an alternative to prisons, individualist anarchists propose increased firearms ownership by non-aggressive people, and the right of said people to summarily kill aggressors.


Tactics differ significantly depending on the political beliefs behind them, and include:

  • Penal system reforms
  • Prison condition reforms
  • Crime prevention rather than punishment
  • Stopping of specific government programs that increase prison population (e.g. War on Drugs)
  • Education programs
  • Decreasing ethnic disparity in prison populations
  • Fighting individual cases of wrongful conviction
  • Educating people who have never been in prison about the problems

Arguments for prison abolition[edit]

  • Prisons cost an enormous amount of tax payer money, both to feed the criminals and to pay the salaries of the guards.
  • Crimes of aggression, greed, and recklessness have a large genetic component. Prisons can not change a person's genes and consequent neurological traits, and execution is far cheaper and faster.
  • In the United States of America, the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution did not abolish slavery, but limited it to cases where it is a "punishment for the crime". In some countries prisons are nothing more than institutionalized slavery.
  • The government can always use prisons to put political opponents out of the way.
  • Judicial outcome depends on the financial resources of the accused.
  • Legislature is biased towards profiting one segment of the population over another. In most countries tobacco is legal, while marijuana is not, because large corporations control the former, while the latter will be impossible to control and tax.
  • Police and prisons alienate people from their communities.
  • The criminal "justice" systems in the West overwhelmingly target people of color and from the lower class.
  • There are examples of prisonless societies, some of which are anarchic.
  • Prisons are not proven to make people less violent, in fact often they promote the violence in individuals.
  • Prison sentences do not perform their stated goal of deterring crime.
  • Prisons fuel greed and lust, rather than encouraging offenders to work to end those desires.

Arguments against prison abolition[edit]

  • Prisons are necessary to preserve order and peace in society.
  • Prisons provide appropriate punishment for crimes against society.
  • Prisons and other state-officiated punishments provide an alternative to mob/vigilante-initiated reprisal or retribution upon accused individuals.

See also[edit]

List of organizations supporting prison abolition[edit]

List of other relevant organizations[edit]

Relevant topics[edit]

External links[edit]