The Weekly Abolitionist: Prison Abolition at ISFLC

That’s right, I’m back! You can once again get your weekly dose of prison abolitionist opinion and analysis right here at the Center for a Stateless Society.

Throughout my absence, my C4SS colleagues have presented excellent prison abolitionist commentary. For example, Nick Ford argued that despite Tutwiler Prison’s formal demise, the rape-filled prison system it represents will live on until prisons are abolished. Similarly, Ryan Calhoun pointed out that President Obama’s valid arguments against solitary confinement of youth apply to the incarceration of youth more generally.

And C4SS’s prison abolitionist commentary isn’t limited to the written word.  Last fall at Students For Liberty’s Oklahoma Regional Conference, I joined social justice hacktivist Rebecca Crane and C4SS’s own Cory Massimino for a panel on prison abolition. Cory discussed the libertarian philosophical case for prison abolition, I explored how mainline political economy complements prison abolitionist analysis, and Rebecca discussed how technology is paving the way for new forms of security, justice, and governance independent of the carceral state.

Next week, C4SS will be bringing our prison abolitionist arguments and advocacy to the largest libertarian gathering in the world: the International Students For Liberty Conference (ISFLC). On Saturday at 4pm, C4SS’s Meg Arnold, Cory Massimino, and Jason Lee Byas will join prison reform activists Blake Feldman and Bryant Jackson-Green for “Reform to Revolution: Libertarian Perspectives on Criminal Justice.”

Libertarians broadly agree that something is rotten in our criminal justice system. But they disagree on what to do about it. Most support incremental reforms implemented through the political process. However, there are strong reasons, both moral and pragmatic, to prefer an abolitionist approach. As Jason Lee Byas has argued, if we take non-aggression and proportionality seriously, prisons appear to be sources of illegitimate aggressive violence, even when used against violent criminals. On a more practical level, attempts to reform the criminal justice system through legislation and litigation have had perverse unintended consequences that further entrench carceral power. These unintended consequences largely result from the public choice incentives that pervade the political process. Abolitionist tactics that involve routing around the political system may be able to avoid these unintended consequences by undermining the power of political actors rather than attempting to persuade them to act against their self-interest. As a radical position, prison abolition seems utopian. But it may be more pragmatic than many approaches to prison reform, when the incentives that plague political decision making are taken seriously.

Whether you believe reform or abolition presents the best approach to ameliorating the ills of our criminal injustice system, I hope you will join us at ISFLC. The conversation promises to be a fruitful discussion of different approaches to bringing about a more just, equitable, and free world.

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