• Samantha Marmet

Imagining Abolition: Introduction


The Plain is excited to introduce a collaborative writing series called Imagining Abolition, which investigates and challenges super-incarceration and its effects on individual, community, and public health in the United States. We hope that it will inspire others to imagine futures that seem impossible because ultimately, we have the power to decide what our future looks like.

The Movement

As Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality sweep the nation, it is clear that the existing criminal justice system is deeply broken. However, de-prioritizing law enforcement does not extend far enough. Prison abolition is a liberatory movement that seeks to eliminate the prison system by envisioning a future where rehabilitation replaces punishment and institutionalization. In other words, prison abolitionists want to think beyond prisons to solve society’s problems by addressing the root causes of crime. The end goal is right in its name: abolition, as defined by the Oxford Dictionary, is “the action or an act of abolishing a system, practice, or institution.” Historically, abolition has described the movement to end slavery; today, abolitionists believe that prison is modern-day slavery protected by our Constitution. Prison abolitionists want to dismantle the prison system entirely rather than reform the existing system. Abolition cannot wait: the United States is the world leader in incarceration, with 2.2 million people living behind bars. To put this in perspective, the US has 4% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s incarcerated population.

It is so difficult to imagine a future where prisons do not exist because prisons are deeply ingrained features of our society. Prisons seem like a fact of life; everyone knows what prison is and millions of Americans are affected by the prison system, whether or not they themselves are incarcerated. At the same time, society is disconnected from the reality of prisons, as prisoners are literally hidden behind walls, shunned and forgotten by the public. We don’t often question whether or not prisons should exist, but rather, what we can do to improve the existing system. Abolitionists believe that the current system cannot be fixed because it would still leave millions of people incarcerated and dealing with the long-term consequences of incarceration. That’s why abolitionism is built on liberation — the act of setting someone free.

Throughout this series, we will be discussing the history of punishment, the economy of prisons, community health, human rights, alternative solutions, and much more. We hope this series encourages readers to be imaginative, seek change, and humanize others in the process.