Introduction to abolition and Quakers today

I used to think of abolition in terms of slavery, or the death penalty, or nuclear weapons.

Today discussions about abolition are more commonly about abolishing police and prisons. I’m just beginning to learn how that might come about. This week was my first meeting with a group of Friends who are interested in abolishing police and prisons, organized by Mackenzie Barton-Rowledge and Jed Walsh. This is an open group, so if you are interested, email me: jakislin@outlook.com

The following is from an article they wrote for Western Friend. You need a subscription to view the article online but following are some excerpts.

Mackenzie: Let’s start with: What does being a police and prison abolitionist mean to you?

Jed: The way I think about abolition is first, rejecting the idea that anyone belongs in prison and that police make us safe. The second, and larger, part of abolition is the
process of figuring out how to build a society that doesn’t require police or prisons.

M: Yes! The next layer of complexity, in my opinion, is looking at systems of control and oppression. Who ends up in jail and prison? Under what circumstances do the police use violence?

As you start exploring these questions, it becomes painfully clear that police and prisons exist to maintain the white supremacist, heteronormative, capitalist status quo.

Abolish the Police by Mackenzie Barton-Rowledge and Jed Walsh, Western Friend, November December, 2020

Abolitionist Futures Why Abolition?

The criminal justice system is violent and harmful: The UK’s prison population has risen by 90% in the last two decades, bringing the number to over 90,000. At the time of writing we are 156 days into 2018 and already we have seen at least 129 deaths in prison, immigration detention centres and at the hands of the police. As the effects of neoliberalism and austerity deepen each day, increasing numbers of people find themselves made disposable by our economic system and structural inequality, targeted by the agencies of the criminal justice system simply for being homeless, experiencing poor mental health or being born in a different country.

The criminal justice system does not reduce social harm: Policing, courts and the prison system are presented to us by politicians and the media as solutions to social problems. Yet, as the prison population has soared, we have continued to seen violence and harm in our society on a massive scale. Violence against women and girls is endemic, racism and the far right are on the rise in Britain and rates of murder and violent assaults are beginning to increase again. As politicians continue to scapegoat those with the least power in society, the conditions of structural violence that so often precede interpersonal violence remain in place.

We can build a world based on social justice, not criminal justice: All over the world, communities are coming together to build real solutions to societal problems. These solutions lie outside of the criminal justice system, in preventing harm through building a better society. By bringing together groups and organisations working for social justice, we want to demonstrate and strengthen the links between prison abolition and wider struggles for housing, health, education, and environment; and for economic, racial, gender, sexual and disability justice.

Abolitionist Futures, Why Abolition?


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