Abolish All Prisons

BAD Broadside #2

The federal, state and local governments in the US are in the business of locking up huge numbers of people. There are over 48,000 persons in federal prisons, twice the number in 1980, and 577,000 in state prisons. There are 235 prisoners for every 100,000 US citizens, with the prison population growing 15 times faster than the general population. Authorities all over the country are building more prisons and planning to lock up more and more people, with a projection of a federal prison population of 147,000 within 12 years. Despite this, violent crime, especially murders of young black and hispanic men in large cities, is increasing daily, with an accompanying increase in police harassment and violence. additionally, large numbers of prisoners (49% in Massachusetts) end up back in jail after they serve their time because they return to their prior activities. Locking people up does not prevent or deter crime, and does not keep those locked up from repeating their offenses.

Punishment, not rehabilitation, is clearly the mission of prisons. In prison, besides being deprived of their freedom to move about as they please, people are abused and harassed by both guards and other prisoners. They are treated as children are usually treated in outside society, and then expected to behave like responsible adults at the end of their sentences. Prisoners are forced to work for no or minimal pay and are often coerced into working in especially dangerous, and sometimes fatal work, like fighting fires and cleaning up oil spills. Beating, raping, intimidating, enslaving and infantilizing people produces not caring, non-violent people, but angry, hostile, often violence-prone ones. Besides being ineffective in preventing crime, abusing people who commit crimes is unjust. When escaped prisoners are found years later living crime-free lives under new names, demonstrating that they have reformed, they are usually returned to prison to finish their sentences, and even have years added on as punishment for escaping. This is nothing but vengefulness on the part of cops and courts, not an attempt to protect others from criminals. Whatever offenses people have committed, it is inhuman and vicious to turn around and abuse them in turn. There are other, more just and less cruel ways to deal with people who are now locked up.

Most people in prison are there for committing offenses not involving violence, and many of these are there for activities that harm no one, or least no one other than themselves, in any way, and should not be of any concern to the government or any one else. Many people are in jail for selling, using, or transporting illegal drugs, engaging in or soliciting for sex in exchange for money, or having consensual sex with people younger than themselves, of the same sex as themselves, or in ways of which the state disapproves. These activities are non-coercive and non-violent and should not be the business of anyone but the participants. Violence is sometimes associated with some of these activities, but that is because the government has illegalized them and driven them underground. Decriminalizing these voluntary activities would solve that problem. As for those offenses involving harm to a person, but not violence, like robbery, some sort of restitution makes more sense than imprisonment.

Even for those who have committed violence against other people, prison is clearly not the solution. It does not deter murder, rape, battery, etc, and may in fact promote their repetition. The only way to prevent violent crime is to enable people to defend themselves against it. One way to accomplish this is to eliminate anti-gun laws so that people can defend themselves against others who may attack them. Relying on police has been shown to be ineffective in preventing violence against people, and the existence of these police forces has been used as a justification for disarming individuals, especially poor and/or black people. Besides this, police themselves are responsible for much of the violence against people that occurs. Handgun possession, especially by women, has been shown to be an effective deterrent to violent crime. When Orlando, Florida conducted a program where 6000 women learned to use and carried handguns and the program was widely publicized, the incidence of rape there dropped 90% at a time when rape was dramatically increasing elsewhere.

Like most statist institutions, prisons are both ineffective and unjust. the only humane way to deal with the problem of prisons is to abolish them, and allow people, as individuals or in groups, according to their own preference, to organize their own self-defense against violence and theft.


Please send two copies of any review or reprint of all or part of this to:

Boston Anarchist Drinking Brigade
(BAD Brigade)
PO Box 1323
Cambridge, MA 02238

Internet: bbrigade@world.std.com

March, 1990

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