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Prison Abolition

This guide explores what prison abolition is, an overview of the movement, and how to get involved.

Prison Abolition

1. Berger, D., Felber, G., Gross, K., Hiinton, E., & Love, A. Prison abolition syllabus. (2016, November 16). Black Perspectives. Retrieved April 14, 2020, from 

The authors present a prison abolition syllabus in context of the dangers of ongoing neoliberal prison reform and the increasing silencing of voices of incarcerated people who stand up against it. The syllabus “seeks to contextualize and highlight prison organizing and prison abolitionist efforts from the 13th Amendment’s rearticulation of slavery to current resistance to mass incarceration, solitary confinement, and prison labor exploitation.” This comprehensive resource would be useful for users looking to research more in depth any of the specific aspects of prison abolition listed.

2. Davis, A. Y. (2016). Freedom is a constant struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the foundations of a movement. Haymarket Books.

Angela Y. Davis is a long time political activist, philosopher, academic, and author whose work revolves around Black liberation, prison abolition and the intersections of race, gender, and class. in "Freedom is a constant struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the foundations of a movement" Davis provides a collection of essays, interviews, and speeches that explore the connections between struggles against state violence and oppression throughout history and around the world. This book would be useful for those interested in learning about state violence, oppression and prison abolition with more of a focus on world history.

Prison Industrial Complex and Mass Incarceration

1. Davis, A. Y. (2011). Are prisons obsolete?. Seven Stories Press. 

Angela Y. Davis is a long time political activist, philosopher, academic, and author whose work revolves around Black liberation, prison abolition and the intersections of race, gender, and class. In Are prisons obsolete? Davis makes the case for abolition prisons by detailing the deep racial history of prisons and mass incarceration in United States. This book is an important piece of literature within the prison abolitionist movement and would be useful to anyone looking to learn more about prison abolition and to read Davis' more contemporary work.

2. DuVernay, Ava (Director). (2016, October 7). 13th [Film]. Netflix.

Ava DuVernay is a writer, producer, director and distributor of independent film. In this film produced by Netflix, DuVernay explores the history of racial inequality in the United States, arguing that mass Incarceration is an extension of slavery. This is a great audiovisual resource for those interested in the history of prisons and mass incarceration in the United States.

3. CNBC (2019, December 29). Who Makes Money From Private Prisons? [Video]. YouTube.

CNBC is a television business news channel that often produce shorter news media and upload them to YouTube. This video examines the privatization of prisons and includes perspectives from people who hold varies different stakes in this topic. This audiovisual resource would be particularly helpful for those who are interested in hearing multiple perspectives on the topic of prison abolition paired with history and statistics about the state of prison and incarceration in the United States.

Prison Abolition through the Lens of Race and Gender

1. NowThis News (2019, December 1). Trans Woman’s Family Sues NYC Over Jail Death [Video]. YouTube.

NowThis News is a online left-wing, progressive, social media-focused, news organization that was started in 2012. In this video we are able to learn about Layleen Xtravaganza Cubilette-Polanco, a 27 year old trans woman who was held in Rikers for months because she couldn’t afford the $500 bail required to settle an outstanding warrant from two 2017 misdemeanors. She was found dead in solitary confinement on June 7th, 2019. Now her family is speaking out and suing the city of New York. This video is an example of the violence enacted in prisons that overwhelmingly effects trans and gender nonconforming people.

2. Barnard Center for Research on Women (2016, June 23). Queer Liberation: No Prisons, No Borders [Video]. YouTube.

Tourmaline (Formally known as Reina Gossett) is an activist, filmmaker and writer based in New York City. In this short video Featuring Reina Gossett, Angélica Cházaro, CeCe McDonald, and Dean Spade, we are invited to explore some of the conversation being had around queer and trans anti-police, anti-prison and anti-deportation activism. This audiovisual resource would be helpful for guiding you through ideas having to do with prison abolition using an intersectional approach to thinking about prison and detention.

3. Barnard Center for Research on Women (2014, January 6). Reina Gossett + Dean Spade (Part 1): Prison Abolition + Prefiguring the World You Want to Live In [Video]. Vimeo. 

Tourmaline (Formally known as Reina Gossett) is an activist, filmmaker and writer based in New York City. Dean Spade is a trans activist, writer and teacher, currently an Associate Professor of Law at Seattle University School of Law. This is part one of a series of four short online videos produced by ‚Äčthe Barnard Center for Research on Women (BCRW) in which Tourmaline and Spade discuss prison abolition as a political framework and explore why prison abolition is a major issue for those committed to supporting trans and gender-nonconforming people. This is a great resource for those interested in learning more about prison abolition through a queer and trans framework.

NYC Prison Abolition Activism and Organizing

1. No New Jails NYC. (n.d.). Close Rikers now, keep us safe: A New Yorker’s guide to building community care and safety by closing Rikers with No New Jails (version 2.0).

No New Jails NYC presents six sections in their comprehensive report and booklet. They cover their organization’s current work, the current situation of jails in New York City, why closing them increases safety, direct action and abolition as care, potentialities if funds for jails were used for community building, and their vision of a prison-less world. This report booklet would be especially useful for anyone looking to gain a comprehensive view of the current state of New York City jails and the framework that prison abolitionists have to abolish them. It would provide anyone in the community both a thorough understanding of current conditions as well as the history of No New Jails NYC in case they consider joining the organization.

2. Release Aging People in Prison. (n.d.). Aging and long sentences in New York state prisons. [Fact sheet].

Release Aging People in Prison shares data and facts on aging incarcerated people. Their list of figures include those of aging incarcerated people along the following lines of analysis: long sentences in New York state prisons, parole release, and advocacy initiatives. This resource would assist users wanting to gain a deeper understanding of the issues facing older people in prison.

3. Survived & Punished. (n.d.). Free : Survivors: A newsletter project of Survived & Punished NY.

Survived & Punished New York shares their archive of newsletters from winter 2019-2020. Their archive of newsletters would be useful for users who are interested in catching up on the work of the organization in the last year, such as those who want to learn more about the organization or consider joining.


Free Them All: COVID-19 and Prison Abolition

1. Beyond Prisons. (n.d.). COVID-19 resources for incarcerated people.

Beyond Prisons provides resources for incarcerated people during the COVID-19 crisis, including a support guide, mutual aid networks and resources, and demands of various organizations. It also includes state prison directories in order to assist connecting people in supporting incarcerated loved ones, as well as volunteer opportunities for translation work and creating state-based guides to further their response efforts. This resource is useful for experienced activists or first-timers to get started in prison abolition work during the pandemic in an accessible way.

2. The Legal Aid Society. (2020, May 2). COVID-19 infection tracking in NYC jails.

The Legal Aid Society shares a tracker and updates on the spread of COVID-19 on Rikers Island and jails across New York City. They provide different forms of analysis, including comparing infection rates of different sites and communities in New York City and around the world. This resource would be useful for users seeking a comparative view of COVID-19 infections in New York City prisons with communities and cities around the world. It demonstrates a powerful method of utilizing information to make an argument for the cause of prison abolition in the United States by exposing the conditions and contradictions of Rikers and New York City jails.

3.Perilous Chronicle. (2020, May 3). Data on COVID actions.

Perilous Chronicle continuously collects information and data on all coronavirus pandemic-related collective actions and protests by incarcerated people across the country. In addition to a detailed database of each recorded action reported to the Chronicle, they include an interactive map. This resource provides a little-reported perspective of incarcerated people during the pandemic and proves useful for those who aim to attain a broad picture of prison abolition and the state of prisons in the United States during the pandemic.

4. Prison Policy Initiative. (2020, May 4). Responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Prison Policy Initiative presents data on state and local governments’ responses and steps to decarcerate and make changes in their prisons in the interest of curbing the coronavirus infection rate amid the pandemic. Its data spans nationally across the United States. This resource would help users looking to understand progress, or lack thereof, that states and cities across the country have made to protect incarcerated people from infection. Users that may be interested in this are those looking to start campaigns in their local areas.