"Even in prison, rebellions are contagious. In 2016, a national prison strike led us to compile the Prison Abolition Syllabus on this site as a way to bring together some of the urgent and informed writings on the history of prisons and prison rebellion. Several developments have prompted us to update the syllabus: most importantly, a new national prison strike began on #August21. Incarcerated people chose the anniversary of the death of legendary prisoner author and revolutionary George Jackson to launch their strike. The strike will go until September 9, the anniversary of when the Attica rebellion began. The 2018 strike demands blend specific policy changes (such as repealing the Prison Litigation Reform Act, the Truth in Sentencing Act, and the Sentencing Reform Act) with broad transformations (including “an end to prison slavery” and “immediate improvements to the conditions of prisons and prison policies that recognize the humanity of imprisoned men and women.) The demands have provided a broad umbrella allowing prisoners to respond to local grievances. Within days, the strike had spread to an immigrant detention center in Washington as well as a prison in Canada.
Continuing the impressive national coordination begun in the 2016 strike, the current strike has garnered increasing media attention. Yet it takes place in a different context: the Trump administration came to power promising the racist canard of “law and order.” While private prison stocks spiked after Trump’s victory, most prisons remain government run and operated by individual states. And several cities or states have pursued limited reforms. New York City has removed the fee people had to pay when calling their loved ones from jail. But after a broad coalition came together in the#CLOSErikers campaign to successfully bring about the planned closing of the jail, Mayor de Blasio took their call to “build communities” and announced they would be opening four new “community-based facilities” in its place. California recently passed a controversial policy that would end cash bail but through a digital risk-assessment form of monitoring that activists have called “e-carceration.” The reform landscape remains fraught, as the right-wing billionaire Koch Brothers back new policing measures and rapper Jay-Z has invested millions in an app that offers a digital surveillance alternative to cash bail.
With more left Democrats echoing the call to #AbolishICE, we see how calls for abolition can quickly move from margin to mainstream. Thanks largely to the work of Black radical women such as Angela Davis, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Joy James, and Mariame Kaba as well as feminist-centered groups such as INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, Critical Resistance, and the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls (“The National Council” for short), most of today’s racial justice activists identify as abolitionists. Over twenty years after Davis, Gilmore, and the late Rose Braz helped launch Critical Resistance, and over a decade after the publication of the seminal texts Are Prisons Obsolete? and Golden Gulag, visions of prison abolition are more popular and sophisticated than ever.
Observing this landscape, the 2018 prison strike aims to not only win demands but build capacity of incarcerated people to resist and survive. Prison Abolition Syllabus 2.0 is a resource for those already doing this work and those looking to learn more. We hope it will help deepen understandings, renew commitments, and carry the goal of prison abolition forward from the 2018 strike."