'Kinder, Gentler Cages Are Still Cages': How Prison Abolitionists Are Working Towards a Less Carceral Future

Last summer’s racial reckoning was the first time many people in the United States ever heard of concepts like prison abolition and defund the police. In fact, there was a spike in online searches for the phrase “prison abolition” in early June 2020, according to Google Trends.

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And after President Biden issued four executive orders on Jan. 26, 2021—one of which specifically designed to end the use of privately operated prisons—many critics of the measure felt it did not go far enough, including prison abolitionist, Kim Wilson, Ph.D.

“Getting people out the prisons should be the goal. And it is radical,” said the co-host and producer of the Beyond Prisons podcast. There are currently over two million people who are incarcerated in the United States.

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Wilson says collectively we have normalized the idea that prisons are about accountability, though they are not, similarly to how police cannot provide accountability in their role.

“We have been trained over decades of watching every cop show, every murder mystery, where the bad guys always end up in prison and the good guys are like, yay! They get to go free,” she said. “All of those things really feed in to how we think about prisons, incarcerality, and policing and surveillance in our own communities.”

In spite of this, Dr. Wilson emphasizes that abolition is in the present and affects us all across the board, referring to Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s stance on internationalism.

“This work is globally linked because of all the things that are that are wrong in society, whether we’re talking about capitalism, white supremacy, heteropatriarchy and on and on and on. But the work begins locally,” she said.

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Watch in the video above as Dr. Wilson explains why decarceration—not reform—should be the goal, how prison is being used to solve social problems, what people-centered and community work looks like, and more.

Jessica Moulite is an award-winning Video Producer at The Root passionate about dismantling unjust societal power structures and all things Black culture. She's also probably watching “Living Single.”

DISCUSSION

How would prison abolitionists suggest we deal with the Atlanta spa shooter? Or the cops who killed George Floyd and Breonna Taylor? Or Dylann Roof?

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