Is prison abolition a serious proposal, an aspirational ideal, a trendy slogan, or a blueprint for social transformation? This interdisciplinary and community-engaged course situates the prison abolition movement in deep historical context and explores its current relation to the politics of criminal justice reform. We will study the movement’s connections to slavery abolitionism, anti-lynching activism, Indigenous struggles for sovereignty, and the Black Power movement. We will examine the emergence of the modern prison abolitionist movement in the 1970s, as well as more recent developments concerning immigration detention, Black Lives Matter, and COVID-19. Our readings will include interdisciplinary scholarship on the carceral state in addition to protest writings and activist materials. A major component of the course will be collaborative activities and service with community organizations focused on incarceration and the criminal legal system, through which we will consider what prison abolitionist ideas might look like in action. There will be opportunities for dialogue with scholars and activists as we investigate prison abolition not as a singular policy, but as a rich and challenging set of questions for rethinking matters of violence, inequality, and social change.
Faculty: Thomas Dichter
Semester: Full Spring Term