You don’t have to be an abolitionist to run a book to prisoners group, but we are and we find the analysis useful for evaluating our work and deciding what good directions to take are. If you’re not familiar with the terms, Prison Industrial Complex or Abolition, the following simple definitions, adapted from the organization Critical Resistance, may help you understand the context in which abolitionists operate.
The Prison Industrial Complex
The prison industrial complex (PIC) describes the overlapping interests of government and industry and the use of surveillance, policing, and imprisonment as solutions to economic, social and political problems.
Through its reach and impact, the PIC promotes and preserves the authority of people who get their power through racial, economic and other privileges. There are many ways this power is amassed and maintained through the PIC. Here are some examples. Mass media creates images that foster stereotypes of people of color, poor people, queer people, immigrants, youth, and other oppressed communities as criminal, delinquent, or deviant. “Tough on crime” politicians then play on this fabricated threat to earn political gains. Private companies earn huge profits supplying police forces and running private prisons. All of this stifles social and political dissent by oppressed communities that struggle for self-determination and reorganization of power in the US.
As PIC abolitionists we understand that the prison industrial complex is not a broken system to be fixed. The system, rather, works precisely as it is designed to—to contain, control, and kill those people representing the greatest threats to state power. Our goal is not to improve the system even further, but to bring an end to it.
Because the PIC is not an isolated system, abolition is a broad strategy. Abolition isn’t just getting rid of buildings full of cages. It requires dismantling this society that feeds and relies on oppression and inequalities maintained through punishment, violence, and control of millions of people.
Abolition is a commitment to struggle for liberation.
Abolition is both a practical organizing tool and a long-term goal.