You really want to ban prisons? Yes. Here’s why and how

Prisons Are Cruel

I truly believe that prison abolition is not a radical idea. It’s empathetic but pragmatic and efficient. That said, I’m probably an outlier in that I’m simply uncomfortable with holding people in cages. Ever since I was young, I thought there was something wrong with me, because even though I often thought someone should end up in prison, I’d immediately feel bad for them. That sounds terrible, I’d think. But I would never say it out loud, because that wasn’t how I was supposed to think. After arriving in law school and learning about prison abolition, I found people who thought the same way I did. But I understand I’m in the minority on this.

So what’s your plan?

The best, most succinct explanation of my idea of prison abolition comes from journalist Emma Roller:

That sounds super expensive

Even in a vacuum, I don’t think this is a good argument. We should spend money to make sure our communities are safer and that people have the support they need in order to live comfortably in society. To me, that is the point of government. Our taxes on the wealthy are extraordinarily low, which I think unacceptable.

Fine, we shouldn’t jail that guy. But what about murderers and rapists?

Because poverty and violent crime are so closely linked, we should expect violent crime to fall by investing in society and social programs, rather than in prisons. The U.S. has an intentional homicide rate of 5.35 per 100,000 inhabitants. Countries with greater social programs have far lower rates. Consider Norway (0.51), Switzerland (0.54), Netherlands (0.55), Spain (0.63), Portugal (0.64), Germany (1.18), United Kingdom (1.20), and France (1.35).

Okay but what about serial killers?

This is the common response to abolitionists, and it’s important to point out that serial killers are a tiny fraction of the US prison population. But it is true that there will probably always be a select few people who need to be kept away from the rest of the population.

These are admirable goals, but what’s your plan right now?

Prison abolition is often chided for being too aspirational, relying on policies that are non-starters in our current political system. However, there are many things we can do, even absent passing major social programs, that will reduce our reliance on prisons and get us started in an abolitionist direction.

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