9/13 | Prison Abolition

Illustration: Eliza Snow for The Guardian

Reginald Dwayne Betts, Angela Davis*, Allegra McLeod, and Bernard E. Harcourt

read and discuss

Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Davis

Prison Abolition and Grounded Justice” by Allegra McLeod

Thursday, February 4, 2021

6:15-8:45 pm

Columbia University

Please RSVP here.


This session will discuss the decades-long effort to abolish prisons spearheaded by Angela Davis and Critical Resistance. It will also broach the topic of the deinstitutionalization of asylums and mental hospitals in the 1960s, which prefigured the abolition of total institutions, but also points to certain risks and pitfalls of abolitionism.


“In thinking specifically about the abolition of prisons using the approach of abolition democracy, we would propose the creation of an array of social institutions that would begin to solve the social problems that set people on the track to prison, thereby helping to render the prison obsolete. There is a direct connection with slavery: when slavery was abolished, black people were set free, but they lacked access to the material resources that would enable them to fashion new, free lives. Prisons have thrived over the last century precisely because of the absence of those resources and the persistence of some of the deep structures of slavery. They cannot, therefore, be eliminated unless new institutions and resources are made available to those communities that provide, in large part, the human beings that make up the prison population.”

— Angela Davis, Abolition Democracy (2005)


“We should understand abolition not as the “elimination of anything but . . . as the founding of a new society.” The relationship between prison abolition and the Constitution, then, should be seen less as the condemnation of our existing abolition constitutionalism and more as the genesis of a new one.”

— Dorothy Roberts, “Abolition Constitutionalism” (2019)



Praxis 11/13 at Columbia University, March 27, 2020