The politics of prison abolition in the UK and Ireland

I often post about prisons and abolition, mainly in the context of the United States. After all, the self-described intergalactic beacon of democracy and liberty, and the originator of exceptionalist politics, was founded on the unfreedom of so many people and communities. The United States has the largest incarceration rate per capita of people captured within its borders, whether through the crimmigration or the criminal punishment systems.

Though state and federal prisons in the United States are singular for their socially tolerated and culturally and politically cultivated conditions of violence; for the lack of or absence of primary mental and physical health care; and the negligible access to education or rehabilitation programs, these issues are also found in many carceral systems across the globe.

Perhaps the most prescient distinction is that in the US, slavery is still legal if you are convicted of a crime, as the 13th Amendment makes clear: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

These foundational logics of racialized unfreedom enshrined in plantation slavery, the convict-lease system, Black Codes, Jim Crow, and the re-emergence of a national Southern Strategy, "white replacement theory," have conditioned the structures and logics of state-sanctioned and socially demanded incarceration. This time period we are currently experiencing is what scholar Dylan Rodriguez identifies as White Reconstruction.

For a documentary account of the impact of the ongoing Constitutional legality of slavery, see The 13th by Ava DuVernay.

What about other N.A.T.O countries, like Ireland and Britain? What are the politics of prison abolition?

Abolitionist Futures is a crew you could check out if you want to learn more.

"Abolitionist Futures is a collaboration of community organisers and activists in Britain and Ireland who are working together to build a future without prisons, police and punishment. We share information and resources to strengthen the network of existing and emerging abolitionist groups and allied organisations. Our aim is to support the flourishing of a diverse, vibrant and powerful abolitionist movement in the [sic] Britain and Ireland."

For more on the aims and organizing principles, click here. Check out this detailed and expansive reading list about prison abolition.

This essay by Hejera Begum, "Rethinking Our Justice System: Understanding Abolition in the UK," offers some provocative and insightful thoughts on transformative approaches to move away from relying on police and prison for (the allusion of) public safety. "Money saved can be better spent on youth centres, mental health provisions, building of community spaces, support for young mums, relief for people impacted by violence, affordable health care, safe injection sites."

As explained in their own words, the Abolitionist Futures Collective emphasizes that the struggle to abolish prisons for freedom rather than legal emancipation has a longer history, "While abolition may seem new, our movements have a long and rich history. Abolitionists have been organising in different groups and formations in Britain since the 1970s and organised resistance to prisons and police is as old as those institutions themselves."

For a brief history of abolition in the UK, click here.