Since 2020 and the death of George Floyd, abolition has become an increasingly popular concept, with activists calling for the end of prisons and policing.
But what does abolition really entail? In The Breach’s latest video, El Jones presents a crash course on abolition, and what the future of safety might look like.
Police shooting Black people. Tens of millions of dollars invested in cages. Wire fences, military grade weapons, and labour for less than 2 dollars a day.
You may think these things exist only in the United States, but policing, prisons and state violence are part of the Canadian landscape too.
Since 2020 and the death of George Floyd, concepts like Abolition have become more mainstream.
But what does it really mean?
The term “abolition” was chosen by Black feminists to recognize the connection between the abolition of slavery and what Saidiya Hartman calls the “afterlife of slavery” continued in institutions like policing and prisons.
Like the movement to end enslavement, the abolition movement is concerned with state control, discipline and punishment.
In her book The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander showed how after the official end of enslavement in the United States, narratives of criminalization are used in order to arrest, imprison and ultimately exploit the labour of Black people.
Corporations make money from the expansion of prisons, bidding on lucrative contracts for everything from construction, to food, to phones. Small towns who have lost jobs are sold on the idea that prisons bring employment but in fact prison does not economically benefit the working classes. Like the police, prisons cost hundreds of millions of dollars a year, and as punishment expands, more and more people are thrown into the belly of the beast.
Indigenous women make up nearly half of all federally incarcerated women, and the most recent report by the office of the correctional investigator showed that Black and Indigenous prisoners are given longer sentences, higher security rating, more institutional charges, and have lower success at parole.
In Canada, like all over the world, prisons warehouse Black people, Indigenous people, people living in poverty, people with disabilities, those who use drugs, queer and Trans people, people living with mental illness and all populations deemed not part of the white, property owning public.
From borders to schools to forensics hospitals to the social assistance system – we experience carceral ideologies that turn to punishment as a solution.
In Canada, punishment regimes keep expanding.
Under Harper, the majority of the laws passed were so-called tough on crime policies that increased sentences, gutted parole access, got rid of programs and education and even removed non-Christian chaplains.
But under all governments politicians push these policies to please the public while benefiting corporations.
Inside prisons, especially during covid, conditions keep getting worse, with more lockdowns and security, fewer privileges, and an unhygienic and violent environment that causes more violence and harm.
Abolitionists believe that the solution for social harms is not prison and that prison makes harm worse.
Prisons separate families, destroy communities, waste resources, and do nothing to end crime.
Abolitionists focus on solutions that return resources to communities.
Slogans like “we keep each other safe” mean that rather than outsourcing punishment to police and prisons, communities are best placed to transform harm and to mutually aid each other.
There are many practical and creative alternatives to prisons: everything from community gardens that build food sustainability, to community patrols, to transformative circles to address harm, to the fight to defund police and the expanding budgets for punishment.
To abolish prisons we must also change how we live and think.
Mariame Kaba calls this the “cop in our hearts and the cop in our heads.”
Prisons are born from capitalism and settler colonialism — we cannot end our reliance on prisons without changing how we live on the land, respecting Indigenous sovereignty, changing how we consume and use resources, and learning different ways of dealing with conflict and holding each other accountable.
As Ruthie Gilmore Wilson tells us, “everything must change.”