How to Abolish Prisons

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    Rachel Herzing, Justin Piché

    Publisher: Haymarket Books

    Year: 2024

    Format: Paperback

    Size: 208 pages

    ISBN: 9798888900833

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An incisive guide to abolitionist strategy, and a love letter to the movement that made this moment possible.

Critics of abolition sometimes castigate the movement for its utopianism, but in How to Abolish Prisons, long-time organizers Rachel Herzing and Justin Piché reveal a movement that has made the struggle for abolition as real as the institutions they are fighting against.

Drawing on extensive interviews with abolitionist crews all over North America, Herzing and Piché provide a collective reconstruction of what the grassroots movement to abolish prisons actually is, what initiatives it has launched, how it organizes itself, and how its protagonists build the day-to-day practice of politics. Readers sit in on the Winnipeg rideshares of Bar None and the meetings of the Chicago Community Bail Fund as they assess the utility of politicized mutual aid. They follow the campaigns and coalitions of Critical Resistance in Oakland and San Francisco and Survived and Punished in New York City, and learn about the prisoner correspondence projects that keep activists behind bars and outside them in constant coordination.

Abolitionist campaigns are constructing on-the-ground initiatives across North America to deconstruct carceral society and build resistant communities.Through the words, deeds, and personalities of this beautifully peopled movement, How to Abolish Prisons emerges as a stunning snapshot of a movement's thinking in motion.

What People Are Saying

“At their most effective, movements for radical change help to produce new ways of understanding the world, new epistemologies. Rachel Herzing and Justin Piché have provided an invaluable service by illuminating the part played by prison abolition activists in generating theories and practices that have the power to change our present-day realities and the potential to create lasting, radical transformations for the future.” Angela Y. Davis

How to Abolish Prisons is hope in action. It is right on time.” Mariame Kaba, author of We Do This ‘Til We Free Us

How to Abolish Prisons shows us that abolition is possible, because the work is already happening. This illuminating, grounded documentation of real efforts to dismantle carceral systems makes liberatory visions tangible. How to Abolish Prisons is an antidote to hopelessness. You will emerge from this book saying, ‘We can do this!’” Maya Schenwar, co-author of Prison by Any Other Name: The Harmful Consequences of Popular Reforms

How to Abolish Prisons is a needed text by and for movement organizers. This book skillfully embodies the abolitionist spirit of imagination, practice making different, and generating wisdom through collective victories and challenges. By focusing on both why and how prison abolitionists fight, this book offers a treasury of gems on abolition as a practical politics of refusal, revolution, and relationality.” Harsha Walia, author of Border and Rule: Global Migration, Capitalism, and the Rise of Racist Nationalism

How to Abolish Prisons is a vital, necessary text on prison abolition. The authors are both scholars and practitioners in the struggle to abolish prisons, and the lessons they share are grounded in knowledge gleaned from decades of movement work. Herzing and Piché’s words highlight the urgency of the task at hand, while advancing crucial lessons for anyone wishing to build more liberatory futures.” Robyn Maynard, co-author of Rehearsals for Living and author of Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present

“Based on their collective decades of organizing against the prison industrial complex plus scores of interviews with organizers in the US and Canada, Herzing and Piché have written a love letter to abolitionists. But in their hands, abolition is neither perfect nor idealized. Herzing and Piché remind us that abolition is practical and beautifully imperfect because it is a collective creation, and it is now in our grasp because it is already in our history.” 
Naomi Murakawa, author of The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison America

“The global carceral regime is a genocidal, antiblack, colonial beast that will only be abolished through a proliferation of the creative forms of collaboration and revolt examined in 
How to Abolish Prisons. Rachel Herzing and Justin Piché offer a gift to anyone who is serious about stoking, deepening, and critically informing their abolitionist commitments and curiosities. I am profoundly grateful for the incitement and seriousness of this book.” Dylan Rodríguez, author of the Frantz Fanon Award-winning White Reconstruction: Domestic Warfare and the Logics of Genocide

“A vital book on the twenty-first century prison abolition movement that delves deep into the art and practice of grassroots organizing. Herzing and Piché brilliantly distill the painstaking efforts of organizers on the frontlines of abolitionist struggles throughout the United States and Canada. Energizing, clarifying, and highly readable, 
How to Abolish Prisons is an essential resource both for those new to and those already active in movements for transformative change.” Emily Thuma, author of All Our Trials: Prisons, Policing, and the Feminist Fight to End Violence

“Amid the resurgence of the racist and fascist far right, 
How to Abolish Prisons provides a visionary analysis of abolitionist struggles across Canada and the United States. Drawing on original interviews with organizers, Rachel Herzing and Justin Piché demonstrate how abolitionist organizations put theory into practice. In doing so, they show how movement organizers and theorists articulate distinct pathways to abolition and ‘build a new world within the grips of the old.’ An urgent intervention in this tumultuous conjuncture.” Jordan T. Camp, author of Incarcerating the Crisis: Freedom Struggles and the Rise of the Neoliberal State

How to Abolish Prisons is filled with discerning analyses and reflections from leading organizers and intellectuals of the prison abolition movement in Canada and the United States. Offering crucial examples of strategy and tactics, unpacking thorny issues of reformism, capacity, and tension, and asking instructive questions about solidarity, scale, victory, and defeat, Rachel Herzing and Justin Piché provide urgent insights into the rigorous praxis, principled political education, and radical vision that constitute the unfinished struggle for abolition.” Judah Schept, author of Coal, Cages, Crisis: The Rise of the Prison Economy in Central Appalachia

About the Authors

Rachel Herzing is an organizer, activist, and advocate fighting the violence of surveillance, policing and imprisonment for over two decades. Herzing was executive director of Center for Political Education, a resource for political organizations on the left and progressive social movements; co-director of Critical Resistance, a national organization dedicated to abolishing the prison industrial complex; and director of research and training at Creative Interventions a community resource that developed interventions to interpersonal harm that do not rely on policing, imprisonment, or traditional social services. She lives in New York City.

Justin Piché is Associate Professor in the Department of Criminology and Director of the Carceral Studies Research Collective at the University of Ottawa, and co-editor of the Journal of Prisoners on Prisons. He is a recipient of the Aurora Prize from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, which “recognizes an outstanding new scholar who is building a reputation for exciting and original research in the social sciences and humanities.” He lives in Ottawa.

Mariame Kaba (Foreword) is an organizer, educator, librarian, and prison industrial complex abolitionist who is active in movements for racial, gender, and transformative justice. She is the author of We Do This 'Til We Free Us and the co-author, with Andrea Richie, of No More Police and, with Kelly Hayes, of Let This Radicalize You.

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