ABOLISH AND REBUILD The Prison Abolition Movement in the Context of the Historical Developments of the Penal System and its Inextricable Ties with Race

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In the last few years, we have seen an increasing number of protests in response to police violence towards African Americans. During these protests the call to defund the police has frequently been heard. Books such as Mariame Kaba’s We Do This ‘Till We Free, a abolitionist organizing handbook, and others in which race features as a prominent subject have made it to the New York Times’ best seller list for nonfiction. This has introduced a wider public to the idea of abolition. What we mean by abolition here, is the abolition of, not only the police, but also of the penal system which locks people behind bars. They see this system as being an oppressive force in the lives of African Americans, part of, what Wacquant calls, a race-making institution. To get rid of this institution and to prevent another race-making institution from replacing it, as happened after the abolition of slavery, some propose not only the abolition of oppressive structures but also the construction of democratic institutions that will prevent this from happening again and to build a just society. In order to understand why this movement emerged and what exactly they seek to dismantle we need to, first, provide the context. We do this by first examining the penal system itself: why and how did it develop? How did it become embedded in American society? This will give us an understanding of what this system is that abolitionists seek to dismantle. Secondly, we need to understand how this system became inextricably linked to race in order to understand why abolitionists center race in their activism and theorizing. It will do this by i.a. analyzing the rise of mass incarceration. Finally, we look at the movement itself: what exactly do they aim to achieve and how do they aim to achieve this? What are some of the struggles they deal with? And what are their successes, if any, and what are their failures?
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