In the fall of 1998, activists gathered in California at the first annual Critical Resistance conference organized to fight the growing Prison Industrial Complex (PIC). Abolition Now!: Ten Years of Strategy and Struggle Against the Prison Industrial Complex is a new anthology of essays and reflection by people who have been involved in Critical Resistance over the past ten years and some who are newer to the movement.
All of the contributors bring critical analysis and passionate reflection to fighting against the PIC. The introduction is written by members of INCITE!, a radical women of color organization that have been organizing against the PIC for years. Their reflections challenge readers to contemplate how the anti-violence and anti-prison movements have tended to still collaborate with the state when it comes to dealing with “crime.” INCITE! believes that this collaboration with the state has resulting in more women of color being targeted by police. They also believe that professionalizing some prisoner advocacy efforts has removed it from its grassroots origin. The introduction even challenges the very idea of state funded programs being used by community groups to do advocacy for prisoners, since the state is in no way interested in challenging its structures of institutional violence.
Other essays deal with important issues like the relationship between the Prison Industrial Complex and the Military Industrial Complex or how the media (both news & entertainment) fosters a pro-police position in what the writer calls the “visual economy of punishment.” In addition, there are essays that discuss the racist, sexist, and homophobic nature of the PIC. One author challenges those in the anti-violence movement by how we frame immigrant rights. In an essay entitled “No One is Criminal,” Martha Escobar reflects on the defense of recent immigrants as “hard working” and “law abiding” is a way of saying that immigrants are not like Black criminals. Escobar believes framing immigrant rights in this way legitimizes state violence against other poor people and people of color.
Many of the writers examine progressive sectors of society tend to ignore the domestic war on the poor and people of color. One author states that the use of community policing practices–the so-called he “Broken Windows” philosophy–fundamentally justifies the violence of the state. The Broken Windows” philosophy was promoted in the early 1980s but is essentially just an updated anti-vagrancy strategy used by the state to target “undesirables.”
The last section of the book includes three essays on projects that are attempting to not just abolish the PIC, but build alternative forms “that actually protect people from violence” and “crowd out the criminalization regime.” One example is “the New Way of Life” project in Los Angeles, California that was started by a woman who was brutalized by the PIC.
Susan Burton, whose son was killed by the police, can be described as a victim of the PIC since she was traumatized by the state violence against her family. After getting out of prison, Susan began a program to help women who were transitioning from prison to coming home. Susan discovered that by promoting an abolitionist point of view about the PIC she was not only able to help women recover from being in prison but also help them become part of the movement to abolish the PIC. The New Way of Life project firmly believes that all too often poor people and people of color are willing to collaborate with the state in enforcing institutional criminalization.
Abolition Now! is an excellent resource for those who not only want to understand how the Prison Industrial Complex works, but how we can dismantle it and create communities of justice–particularly for the poor, women of color and other marginalized sectors of society that are targets of the state.
Critical Resistance, Abolition Now!: Ten Years of Strategy and Struggle Against the Prison Industrial Complex, (AK Press, 2008).