Expanded Glossary

Abolition, Police and Prison

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A DEFINITION:
abolition, police and prison: Abolition is an organizing tool and an ongoing goal to create a world that uses existing and new practices to stop harm from happening, instead of using the prison industrial complex and punishment as an ‘answer’ to our problems.

CONTEXT & HISTORY:
Prison abolition is a political vision with the goal of eliminating imprisonment, detention, policing and surveillance while creating lasting alternatives to punishment and incarceration. Abolition isn’t just about getting rid of buildings full of cages. It’s also about undoing the society we live in because the PIC (prison industrial complex) both feeds on and maintains oppression and inequalities through punishment, violence, and controls millions of people. 
Abolition is both a practical organizing tool and a long-term goal. Abolition means a world where we do not use the prison industrial complex as an ‘answer’ to social, political, and economic problems. Abolition means that instead we imagine and create new ways to stop harm from happening. It means responding to harm when it does happen, without simply “punishing.” We will try to fix the causes of harm, instead of using the failed solution of punishment. This means harm will occur far less often. This is often called “harm reduction.” We will not use policing, courts, and prisons, which are making us less safe. Abolition means creating sustainable, healthy communities with the power to create safety.
The harm of the prison system isn’t just inside the grey buildings and huge walls. Its web of violent interrelationships entangle prisoners, their families, lovers, friends and communities the world over. As a collective we oppose both state and private prisons and we would like to illustrate how these are connected, and how prisons are used as a tool worldwide for social control and repression. (Queer Provocations)

While some activists advocate to defund, but keep, police forces, some activists advocate following that with abolition, which seeks to dismantle the prison-industrial complex (PIC) entirely.
According to activist group Critical Resistance, PIC abolition aims to eliminate imprisonment, policing, and surveillance as responses to harm. Instead of investing in more police and prisons, abolitionists want to get rid of these things entirely, in favor of restorative and transformative justice. (A Glossary Of Anti-Racism Terms All Activists & Allies Should Know by Madhuri Sathish)

Abolition isn’t just about getting rid of buildings full of cages. It’s also about undoing the society we live in because the PIC both feeds on and maintains oppression and inequalities through punishment, violence, and controls millions of people. Because the PIC is not an isolated system, abolition is a broad strategy. An abolitionist vision means that we must build models today that can represent how we want to live in the future. It means developing practical strategies for taking small steps that move us toward making our dreams real and that lead us all to believe that things really could be different. It means living this vision in our daily lives. (Critical Resistance)

MEDIA LINKS:
Explanation of current movement to abolish the police from Critical Resistance (6-minute video)

Mabre Stahly-Butts “Abolishing the Prison Industrial Complex” (11-minute video)

Reformist Reforms vs. Abolitionist Steps in Policing, a Critical Resistance chart, via Abolition Journal (4-minute read)

This chart breaks down the difference between reformist reforms which continue or expand the reach of policing, and abolitionist steps that work to chip away and reduce its overall impact.


Reformist Reforms vs. Abolitionist Steps to End Imprisonment, a chart from Critical Resistance (5-minute read)

This poster is a tool to assess and understand differences between reforms that strengthen imprisonment and abolitionist steps that reduce its overall impact and grow other possibilities for wellbeing.

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