Abolition is a Lifetime Study

Citlaly Escobar, opinions editor

The ultimate goal of abolitionists is to ensure that all communities have healthy access to the material conditions needed to progress their overall wellness. As Ruth Wilson Gilmore is famously known for saying, “abolition is about presence, not absence.” A society that invests in community safety and prevention cannot exist alongside prisons, police nor the current judicial system as we know it. They are all a material manifestation of slavery and serve to protect those with capital. And just like any other theoretical framework of study, abolition needs to be researched, evaluated and put into action or praxis everyday. It is not and will never be a quick event. 

Abolition historically refers to the federal outlawing of enslavement in the 1800s, the implementation of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments and the investment in African American political power.

In the present day, abolition is a political vision aiming for the elimination of the prison-industrial complex, which is the overlapping systems of government and private industries that attempt to “solve” economic, social and political problems through surveillance, policing and imprisonment. It encompasses a material reality and a theoretical research field, as it is both a practical organizing strategy and a long-term vision that reimagines society. Abolition is ultimately a movement to build life-affirming institutions that holistically invest in people and communities. 

What does this mean? Well, a core value of abolition is investing in the wellness of communities. By expanding preventative measures, abolitionists hope to eliminate sources of harm and the systems that perpetuate them because it is the structures that people grow up in that shape their experiences and actions. These structures include what a person has access to, such as housing, food, environment, mental health resources, education and more. Abolitionists work towards building a society that ensures that all communities and people have robust, stable and healthy access to their needs. 

U.S. society defines criminals as people who break the law, but the majority of people who commit a crime do so because they do not have healthy and stable access to food, housing, social and mental services. What does it mean that the government chooses to punish people who are without access versus punishing corporations who remove the access to basic human necessities? This reframing of criminality intentionally moves away from the notion that people are inherently bad and instead understands the root of their actions by placing it within the current context of their circumstances. We must rethink our framing of what it means to be a criminal. 

In order to build an abolitionist society the current judicial system must be restructured. This includes eradicating all forms of prisons and their proxy agents such as ICE Detention Centers and Guantanamo Bay, because they do not solve crime and actively divest from community health. Prisons and their proxy agents actively enable slavery as the 13th Amendment allows corporations to exploit people who are imprisoned by forcing them to build their products for little to no wages. As stated in the amendment, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” 

Slavery is thus permitted to exist as long as it takes the shape of long-term incarceration. This Constitutional loophole became a strong factor for the mass incarceration movement of the 1980s and ‘90s as corporations actively invested in the War on Drugs, the 3-Strikes Policy and the current cash-bail system. On any given day in the U.S., over 450,000 people are incarcerated with unconvicted sentences because they could not afford to make their bail. To put that into perspective, that is roughly the equivalent of all Minneapolis residents. It is only through eradicating prisons, long-term incarceration and their enforcers that life-affirming institutions and programs can be developed.