Prison Abolition Reading Group

During the summer of 2020, Matthew Vega, Ph.D. Student in Theology, lead a reading and discussion group as part of his role as Hanna Gray Fellow in Subject Specialist Librarianship with Anne K. Knafl. The group discussions focused on two readings: Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Davis and Break Every Yoke: Religion, Justice, and the Abolition of Prisons by Vincent Lloyd and Joshua Dubler.

The goal of the group was not to debate the merits of the abolition movement but to explore its history, relevance, and importance at a unique moment in history: a global pandemic and global uprising against police violence. Participants included Library employees, current graduate UChicago students, alums, and community members. All meetings were held over Zoom and all readings were provided in electronic format. Dr. Lloyd and Dr. Dubler joined the group to discuss their book. The last session was lead by guest facilitator Micah Herskind, co-creator of #8ToAbolition campaign.

Participants contributed to a list of resources posted below. If you would like to suggest additional resources, please email Anne K. Knafl. If you are interested in creating your own reading and discussion group, please use our Plan and Guidelines as a model. Anne created a short video about the group for the #ScholarStrike.

Two publications have come from group members. Matt Vega, Anne Knafl, and Sierra Meszaros wrote a 3-part essay about the reading group, UChicago Library Series in Exploring Race Magazine (individual essays linked below). Anne Knafl co-authored an open letter with a group of abolitionist librarians, "A Call for Ivy+ Libraries to Divest from Police and Prisons and Invest in Life-Giving Resources."

Are Prisons Obsolete?

Davis, Angela Y. Are Prisons Obsolete? New York: Seven Stories Press, 2003.

Break Every Yoke

Dubler, Joshua and Vincent Lloyd. Break Every Yoke: Religion, Justice, and the Abolition of Prisons. New York: Oxford University Press, 2020.

Learn more about prison abolition and the communities advocating for change:

  • #8toAbolition: "This is an offering for abolitionist vision and transformation. Although there are many policies here, this is not a policy document or website, nor are we an organization or policymakers. We hope this serves as a resource for people to build from and incorporate abolitionist demands into local organizing efforts around municipal, state, and federal policies. Originally, this resource was formed as a direct response to a harmful reformist campaign."
  • 9 Solidarity Commitments to/with Incarcerated People for 2021: developed by @prisonculture (Mariame Kaba)
  • Abolition: A Journal of Insurgent Politics: “we are creating a new project, centered around Abolition: A Journal of Insurgent Politics—for research, publishing, and study that encourage us to make the impossible possible, to seek transformation well beyond policy changes and toward revolutionary abolitionism.” They have a Study Group Guide.
  • The Abolition & Disability Justice Collective: "We are abolitionist psychiatric survivors, people with disabilities, and their accomplices. We believe in and work toward the liberation of all." Their site includes Alternatives to Policing Based in Disability Justice.
  • Abolition For The People: "a project produced by Kaepernick Publishing in partnership with LEVEL, seeks to end [the] debate once and for all...the project will publish 30 stories from organizers, political prisoners, scholars, and advocates — all of which point to the crucial conclusion that policing and prisons do not serve as catch-all solutions for the issues and people the state deems social problems."
  • Abolition Library -- Resource Guide
  • American Prison Newspapers, 1800-2020: Voices from the Inside (collection of American Prison newspapers in JSTOR)
  • Boyd, Miracle and China Smith. “Essential Work: Young Black activists ‘in the middle of history’ confront Covid-19 and racism.” InjusticeWatch, July 15, 2020.
  • Building Your Abolitionist Toolbox: Everyday Resources for a Punishment-Free World series: from Project Nia, founded by abolitionist Mariame Kaba
  • Critical Resistance: "Critical Resistance seeks to build an international movement to end the Prison Industrial Complex by challenging the belief that caging and controlling people makes us safe." Includes a page of online resources.
  • "Defund Community Conversation CPD Toolkit," by Defend Black Lives #DefundCPD: "This toolkit grounds the conversation in real-world examples in Chicago and elsewhere, and interrogates our society’s narratives about the police. We also intend to make resources we’ve used in Chicago accessible to those around the country."
  • An Indigenous Abolitionist Study Guide: Developed by the Yellowhead Institute at Ryerson University in Toronto. “Our organizing committee is a collaboration of artists, activists, academics, and people with direct experience with the carceral system. Our group includes Indigenous people, Black people, people of colour, white people, queer/trans* and 2-spirit people, younger and older people, people who have been incarcerated and people who have worked and struggled against incarceration, detention, deportation, and settler colonialism in various ways.”
  • Justice in America Podcast by Josie Duffy Rice and Clint Smith III. Each episode explains a new criminal justice issue and features conversations with experts and advocates.
  • Knafl, Anne. "UChicago Library Series: How do you start this conversation? How do we keep the conversation going?," Exploring Race UChicago, November 12, 2020.
  • Lydon, Jason with Kamaria Carrington, Hana Low, Reed Miller, and Mahsa Yazdy. "Coming Out of Concrete Closets: A Report on Black & Pink's National LGBTQ Prisoner Survey," Black & Pink, October, 2015.
  • Meszaros, Sierra. "UChicago Library Series: Key Takeaways," Exploring Race UChicago, November 20, 2020.
  • New Dawn Podcast, an initiative of the Race and Capitalism project. "This project is co-led by CSRPC Faculty Director and Professor of Political Science Michael C. Dawson and Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Washington Megan Ming Francis."
  • The People's Plaza: "We are the People at Ida B. Wells Plaza. We are peaceful. We are nonviolent. We believe Black Lives Matter and our communities and the State of Tennessee need to recognize this. We have been intimidated, harassed, assaulted, and arrested by state troopers but our spirits are stronger than ever and we will continue to occupy the Plaza until either the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest is taken out of the capitol or Governor Bill Lee meets with us. While we no longer occupy the Plaza 24/7, we continue to collaborate and organize for racial justice – specifically the defunding and demilitarization of the police and the removal of Confederate symbols. We continue to organize direct actions at Ida B. Wells Plaza and events that cater to our community."
  • "Prison Abolition Arguments Chart": A list of suggested responses to common challenges to prison abolition, including "What about dangerous people?" and "What about public safety?" Draft by Dean Spade, 2017.
  • Prison Activist Resource Center is "a prison abolitionist group based on Oakland, California committed to exposing and challenging the institutionalized racism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism, and classism of the Prison Industrial Complex."
  • Resource Guide: Prisons, Policing, and Punishment: A list of 100+ books, articles, podcasts, videos, etc. compiled by prison abolitionist Micah Herskind. Topics covered: Prison Abolition: What is it?; Police Abolition: What is it?; Abolition and Coronavirus; Origin Stories; Criminalizing Blackness; Sexual Violence and Anti-Carceral Feminism; Community Accountability, Restorative Justice, and Transformative Justice; Disability Justice; Not Just The “Nonviolent Drug Offender”: The Perils of Reform and Tech Fixes; Prison Organizing, Past and Present; Are Private Prisons and Prison Labor *the* Problem?; Mutual Aid and/as Abolition; Intersections: Climate (In)Justice and Prisons; Intersections: Crimmigration; Intersections: LGBTQ Criminalization; Intersections: Christianity and Prison Abolition
  • Scholars for Social Justice: Resources "Scholars for Social Justice (SSJ) is a network of scholars initiated in the summer of 2017, committed to promoting and fighting for a political agenda that insists upon justice for all, especially those most vulnerable."
  • #ScholarStrike: Scholar Strike was September 8-9, 2020, and "an action inspired by the NBA, WNBA, Colin Kapernick and other athletes, to underscore the urgent importance of addressing racism and injustice in the United States. Conceived via a tweet by Anthea Butler, this is designed to call awareness to the racial climate in America, and the rash of police shootings and racial violence." Resources include a Youtube channel that features short videos that address a wide variety of topics related to racism and anti-racist activism, including topics related to prison abolition.
  • Taylor, Keeanga-Yamahtta, Barbara Smith, Beverly Smith, Demita Frazier, Alicia Garza, and Barbara Ransby. How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective. Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books, 2017.
  • Teachers 4 Social Justice: Resources for Abolitionist Teaching and Solidarity in These Times: "Teachers 4 Social Justice is a grassroots non-profit teacher support and development organization. Our mission is to provide opportunities for self-transformation, leadership, and community building to educators in order to affect meaningful change in the classroom, school, community and society. T4SJ organizes teachers and community-based educators and implements programs and projects that develop empowering learning environments, more equitable access to resources and power, and realizing a just and caring culture."
  • A "resource hub about ending violence. We are not an organization. This site offers an introduction to transformative justice."
  • Vega, Matthew. "UChicago Library Series: How Did The Abolition Reading Group Come Together?," Exploring Race UChicago, November 5, 2020