> politics of prison > abolition & alternatives
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Imprisonment is morally reprehensible and indefensible and must be abolished.
In an enlightened free society, prison cannot endure or it will prevail.
Abolition is a long term goal; an ideal. The eradication of any oppressive
system is not an easy task. But it is realizable, like the abolition
of slavery or any liberation, so long as there is the will to engage
in the struggle.
The message of abolition requires "honest" language and new definitions. Language is related to power. We do not permit
those in power to control our vocabulary. Using "system language" to call prisoners "inmates" or punishment "treatment", denies prisoners the reality of their experience and makes us captives of the
old system. Our own language and definitions empower us to define the
Abolitionists believe reconciliation, not punishment, is a proper response
to criminal acts. The present criminal (in)justice systems focus on
someone to punish, caring little about the criminal's need or the victims
The abolitionist response seeks to restore both the criminal and the
victim to full humanity, to lives of integrity and dignity in the community.
Abolitionists advocate the least amount of coercion and intervention
in an individual's life and the maximum amount of care and services
to all people in the society.
Abolitionists work with prisoners but always remain "non-members" of the established prison system. Abolitionists learn how to walk the narrow
line between relating to prisoners inside the system and remaining
independent and "outside" that system. We resist the compelling psychological pressures to be "accepted" by people in the prison system. We are willing to risk pressing for changes
that are beneficial to and desired by prisoners. In relating to those
in power, we differentiate between the personhood of system managers
(which we respect) and their role in perpetuating an oppressive system.
Abolitionists are "allies" of prisoners rather than traditional "helpers." We have forged a new definition of what is truly helpful to the caged, keeping
in mind both the prisoner's perspective and the requirements of abolition.
New insights into old, culture-laden views of the "helping relationship" strengthen our roles as allies of prisoners.
Abolitionists realize that the empowerment of prisoners and ex-prisoners
is crucial to prison system change. Most people have the potential
to determine their own needs in terms of survival, resources and programs.
We support self-determination of prisoners and programs which place
power in the hands of those directly affected by the prison experience.
Abolitionists view power as available to each of us for challenging
and abolishing the prison system. We believe that citizens are the
of institutional power. By giving support to "or withholding support from" specific policies and practices, patterns of power can be altered.
Abolitionists believe that crime is mainly a consequence of the structure
of society. We devote ourselves to a community change approach. We
would drastically limit the role of the criminal (in)justice systems.
public solutions to public problems "greater resources and services for all people".
Abolitionists believe that it is only in a caring community that corporate
and individual redemption can take place. We view the dominant culture
as more in need of "correction" than the prisoner. The caring communities have yet to be built.
of Prisons: A Handbook for Abolitionists
Abolitionists advocate drastically limiting the role of criminal
law. We do this not because we wish to encourage certain behaviour, but
we realize that criminal sanctions are not an effective way of dealing
with social problems. There are far too many laws on the books. It
would be prohibitively expensive to enforce them all. This results in unjust
and arbitrary law enforcement. Powerless persons are imprisoned while
more powerful persons go free. People of colour, first nations and
people bear the brunt of unequal law enforcement.
The crimes most frequently
considered for decriminalization are those which are "victimless"....offenses that do not result in anyone's feeling that s\he has been injured
so as to impel him\her to bring the offense to the attention of the
authorities ....behaviour not injurious to others but made criminal by
on moral standards which disapprove of certain forms of behaviour while
ignoring others that are comparable.
A system "bursting at its seams" is perhaps the most visible effect of overcriminalization. Overcriminalization
encourages the wide use of discretionary power in law enforcement.
Because there is no complainant, police resort to questionable means
Investigative techniques used to gather evidence are often immoral
and sometimes illegal. These include entrapment, use of informers,
and use of constitutional rights such as illegal search and seizure,
invasion of the right to privacy and self-incrimination.
Imprisonment should be a last resort. The presumption
should be against its use. Before any offender is incarcerated, the prosecution
bear the burden of proving in an evidentiary hearing that no other
alternative exists. An equal burden should be required for the denial or
of "good time", probation and parole, which really are only other ways of imposing imprisonment...
We should further reduce our excessive reliance on prisons by making
extensive use of alternatives to imprisonment, such as fines, restitution,
probationary methods, which could at least as effectively meet society's
need for legal sanctions. However, such alternatives must be made available
to all people who have committed similar offenses, so as not to become
a means for the more affluent to buy their way out of prison. And where
some kind of confinement seems necessary, halfway houses, community
centres, group homes intermittent sentences, and other means of keeping
within the community should be preferred to prison.
from A Program
for Prison Reform