What is often called police and prison reform does not and has never worked for Black people. Measures to stem police violence and other acts of harm toward Black people, like hiring more Black police officers, community policing, modernized surveillance techniques, placing police outposts in under-serviced and marginalized neighborhoods, and starting sports camps run by police, among other programs, fail by their very nature because each is meant to further cement the position policing occupies in our lives. None of these reforms work because they do not replace the foundational imperative of modern policing: the management of Black people. Our collective refusal to contend with the truth of policing, both as an institution and a practice, means that we are willing to abandon Black people to the vagaries of a system that sees them as the very bane of its existence.
Both Mariame Kaba and Angela Davis direct us to what is possible after prisons, and, importantly, what must be achieved in the process of abolishing prisons. Again, the question of economy and collective care sits at the center of all worthwhile alternatives. By this I mean that resources now invested in caging people must be redirected to enhancing education, health care, employment opportunities, housing and social services, among other priorities. These are the very same elements that, in the neoliberal era of welfare state reduction, have been downloaded onto families and individuals. Once we as a society come to terms with the disruptive effects of policing, we can begin to redirect resources differently, in ways that will help shape our future lives: it’s only through such redirection that we can begin to create a society where prisons are no longer needed.
A world without prisons does not of course make all harm disappear, but abolitionists firmly believe that, once the basic necessities of life are secured, crimes and other social ills will eventually decrease. In places like Sweden and Norway, where prison populations have been steadily declining for years, crime has not disappeared. But prisons in these countries aren’t used to deal with drug-related issues, petty crimes, loitering, and a range of other offenses that in North America serve as the main conduits through which people enter the prison industrial complex as offenders. Prison abolitionists like Kaba have long been advocates of transformative justice practices, running workshops, training programs, and acting as community liaisons to work towards achieving very specific conflict resolutions. They are preparing us for a future that they are in many ways already living through their activism, micro-communities, and philosophies of life.
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