International Issues · Justice and Penal Issues

A World Without Prisons?

For the past month, I’ve been doing social media consultancy for the 14th Biennial International Conference on Penal Abolition (ICOPA). I found out about the conference purely by accident, when someone I did social media work for a few months before decided to pimp me out to some of his colleagues. I thought at first that this would be right up my alley. But now I’m not so sure…

For the past year or two I’ve been doing a lot of ant-death penalty work with Amnesty International and some other local and regional persons and groups like Ishmael Samad and The Greater Caribbean for Life. So I spent a lot of time personally figuring out what was wrong with what’s called the ‘Prison Industrial Complex’ – how minority groups are usually those incarcerated, how those individuals don’t have opportunities to actually remake their life because they are labelled as criminals, and how these systems perpetuate social problems like crime and social inequality instead of solving them.

I had never for the life of me thought about getting rid of the system entirely. After all, my focus was just for the state to stop executing people. I still thought that some people needed to be incarcerated, but that the mode of incarceration needed to be different. Like in Norway, where maximum-security prison looks a lot like the Courtyard Marriott (or better, in my opinion).

Thanks to the folks at ICOPA, I’m learning that the entire idea behind prisons like that and movements towards restorative justice and mediation around the world is to create a world where prisons become obsolete. A world where communities own their own mechanisms of mediation and justice, and that it reconciles people back with people and the communities that they come from. Theoretically, that’s what justice is supposed to be. The justice system and penal system are supposed to work together to correct a wrong and return the person who made a mistake back into society. It hasn’t done that pretty much since its inception, and it’s only been about 250 years ago. So maybe we should be moving away from prisons overall…

But it definitely is a notion that takes some getting used to. If someone said something crazy like “Let’s get rid of schools because students aren’t learning!”, we’d laugh so hard at that guy they could hear us from the other side of the world. But the truth is that the penal system is not just broken, but it was designed broken and no one’s worked on fixing it at all. So why aren’t we fixing it, or even addressing its brokenness? And, if it is as broken as these people claim it is, why are we putting up with it at all?

For those who want to check out the conference, it went up on live stream. You should definitely take a look at what some of these academics and advocates have to say. Here’s the link – http://www.livestream.com/iirtv

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