First, they wanted to get rid of ICE, and now they want to abolish the entire prison system. What are these people smoking??
In an extensive op-ed polished in Politico last month, journalist Ruairí Arrieta-Kenna notes the increasing support for the “abolition” movement:
“Proponents envision a future society in which, rather than having better carceral conditions than we have today, there exist literally no prisons at all.”
These people call themselves “abolitionists,” and they are the same people calling for open borders, the end of capital punishment, and the decriminalization of drug use.
Abolition (along with free college tuition and free healthcare) is among the platform tenets of the Democratic Socialists of America – the progressive organization that backed rookie candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in her successful campaign against Joe Crowley last month.
“There is overwhelming evidence that mass incarceration evolved as an outgrowth of Jim Crow laws, which itself was a system rooted in the subjugation of former slaves,” argues Ocasio-Cortez. “According to legal scholar Michelle Alexander, there are more African-Americans under correctional control today than were enslaved in 1850…before the Civil War.”
There are currently more than 2.2 million people locked up in America’s prisons.
As abolitionists like to point out, incarceration does not seem to prevent recidivism (which makes me feel like prison sentences should be longer, not shorter).
They insist the system upholds white supremacy, capitalism, and oppression – but does not keep us safe or protect society in a productive way.
Regarding the entire prison system, author Maya Schenwar writes, “Once we understand that basically, its roots are rotten, then we understand that we can’t just replace certain aspects of it or improve it or make prison kinder and gentler; we actually have to uproot it.” —
The abolitionist movement began in the late 20th century with a group of black feminists who saw the current prison system as a continuation of slavery.
The purported connection between prisons and slavery kind of makes sense in light of two facts:
- Incarceration rates disproportionately impact people of color
- Inmates are commonly used for menial tasks and hard labor
And while all sides can agree the US prison system needs some fixing, letting criminals run free doesn’t seem like the best solution.
Not surprisingly, the two biggest obstacles to gaining support for the abolition movement are:
- The widespread idea that we need prisons to keep us safe
- The mentality that we should hurt people who hurt others
“It’s really, really hard for people to imagine a world without prisons, but we had that world before,” argues podcaster Kim Wilson. “The system that we currently have is supposed to be more humane than if we just tortured someone, but we’re just torturing people in a different way.”
To prevent crime, explains Wilson, our goal should not be to lock up as many criminals as we can. Instead, we should figure out “what conditions exist in people’s interpersonal relationships, in their homes, in their communities, that which lead someone to commit harm.”
Abolitionists’ key complaint about retributive justice is that it dehumanizes people who break the law. Instead, they insist we should implement policies that treat people like people and not like animals.
And while recent polls suggest that up to 60% of Americans see rehab as more appropriate than prison for nonviolent offenses, most people still want to see violent offenders behind bars.
As abolitionist Carlton Williams admits, “It’s hard to tell someone who experienced sexual violence that their rapist shouldn’t be punished.”