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Are Prisons Obsolete?
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Are Prisons Obsolete?

4.30  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,039 Ratings  ·  144 Reviews
With her characteristic brilliance, grace and radical audacity, Angela Y. Davis has put the case for the latest abolition movement in American life: the abolition of the prison. As she quite correctly notes, American life is replete with abolition movements, and when they were engaged in these struggles, their chances of success seemed almost unthinkable. For generations o ...more
Paperback, 128 pages
Published August 5th 2003 by Seven Stories Press (first published 2003)
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Apr 10, 2011 Brad rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: KI Hope
Shelves: political
Some people ask themselves, "What would Jesus do?" when they're considering an ethical dilemma. Lately, I've been asking myself, "what would Angela do?" when faced with the ugliness of humanity.

Angela Y. Davis is one of my heroes. She challenges us to challenge ourselves, to ask ourselves hard questions and be willing to face up to hard answers. Her most important contribution to my inner landscape, though, is that she's taught me not just to imagine that things can be different, but to imagine
Jun 08, 2011 Natasha rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: all people interested in the history of the PIC in the US, POC
Recommended to Natasha by: Read it for a college course
This is one of the most comprehensive, and accessible, books I have read on the history and development/evolution of the prison-industrial complex in the United States. Davis' language is not heavy with academic jargon and her research is impeccable. She almost seamlessly provides the social, economic, and political theories behind the system that now holds 2.3 million people, and counting, in the United States. And she does all this within a pretty small book, which is important to introduce th ...more
Nov 09, 2009 Kevin rated it liked it
From email...

My one criticism is while I felt the author made an excellent job of illustrating many problems with the prison system little time was devoted to alternatives. Moreover the alternatives were generally vague with little insight into how effective they would be or if there would be drawbacks. The solution for murder of empathy, forgiveness, amnesty (or something along those lines) on the one hand seemed interesting but ultimately I'm not certain my view on that. I know Rwanda basicall
Mar 03, 2009 Elizabeth rated it really liked it
What if there were no prisons? What kind of people might we be if we lived in a world where: addiction is treated instead of ignored; schools are regarded as genuine places of learning instead of holding facilities complete with armed guards; lawbreakers encounter conflict resolution strategies as “punishment” for their crime instead of solitary incarceration? Angela Y. Davis, the revolutionary activist, author and scholar, seeks to answer these questions and the subsequent “why and how’s” that ...more
May 13, 2008 Scott rated it really liked it
An incisive look into the historical foundations of the modern-day prison industrial complex in the United States, and its "symbiotic" relationship with capitalization and corporatization. Davis is thorough and compelling in explaining that reform is not enough - in fact, "reform" and "prison" have gone hand-in-hand since the inception of the concept of a prison as punishment. It is worth noting, however, that her analysis does not extend to all classes of individuals (such as transgender people ...more
Li Sian
Feb 07, 2015 Li Sian rated it really liked it
Angela Y Davis lays down the TRUTH in this abolitionist appraisal of the US's prison industrial complex, laying bare the racist history of incarceration in the States - tracing its roots to the chain gang labour that emerged as an alternative, even more profitable, method of exploitation than slavery during the post-Emancipation era, well before the War on Drugs. She also draws on her deep understanding of gender and intersectionality to argue that gender is central, not marginal, to the prison ...more
Aug 12, 2014 wrench rated it it was amazing
Shelves: borrow-my-books
Davis writes in a really accessible way.
I get really intimidated by non fiction, and reading it is not a skill I have spent a lot of time grinding, but she writes about really complex concepts in ways which are really easy to understand.
Brilliant book!
Everyone should recommend other books for me to read on this topic!
I. Merey
Mar 04, 2015 I. Merey rated it it was amazing
Shelves: prison, 2015, social
"What, then, would it mean to imagine a system in which punishment is not allowed to become the source of corporate profit? How can we imagine a society in which race and class are not primary determinants of punishment? Or one in which punishment itself is no longer the central concern in making justice?

[...] Rather, positing decarceration as our overarching strategy, we would try to envision a continuum of alternatives to imprisonment--demilitarization of schools, revitalization of education a
Mar 18, 2015 Sharee rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-i-own
Angela Davis is one of my idols and this book further confirmed why. I'm always amazed by the clarity and accessibility in which she delivers intelligent and insightful arguments. She is truly an inspiring force. Are Prisons Obsolete? convinced me even further that prison as an institution is deeply flawed and an institution that should not be part of a progressive, democratic society. With ease Davis highlights the discriminatory nature of prisons and how they continue to maintain and reinforce ...more
Nov 29, 2014 tom rated it really liked it
really good as a short primer on the history of prisons, the horrors of prisons, the racism involved, the economy exploitation and the way it links together with capitalism. i could have small quibbles with it on this stuff and I'd love it to have been longer but oh well.

the one major flaw is that it doesn't really answer the question in the title - it says why prisons are bad yet doesn't really show alternatives for how to think about justice for things like murder. imo this is a pretty big di
I was planning to give this book four stars, but she mentioned sexual violence using the R word on the penultimate page, and I dissociated through the end of it. That word was used twice, but luckily that was all. There is some good information here about the prison industrial complex, and it's definitely worth a read, even though there are some intense parts. It sort of feels like a primer, something to get a reader interested with the intention of going into more detail in a later book. Ms Dav ...more
May 09, 2014 James rated it it was ok
A disappointing and at times frustrating read. Rather than presenting the argument promised by its title, the text is primarily a laundry list of the evils of the prison industrial complex. At times it reads a bit like an undergraduate term paper, summarizing important writers (Currie, Foucault, etc.) without really engaging them or adding new dimensions to their work. The book could serve as an excellent primer for the reader who may be unaware of just how crooked our penal system is, but it do ...more
Aug 17, 2011 Chris rated it it was amazing
Are Prisons Obsolete? opened my mind to really thinking about a world without prisons. Even if you agree that the prison industrial complex is a beast that must be dismantled, it's hard to imagine prisons not existing at all - where would we put all the violent criminals, right? Davis' exploration of the prison system and her analysis of the ways in which criminality is racialized, gendered, and classed to exploit populations for profit, much like slavery, present a clear argument of the need to ...more
This book by Angela Davis is best described as short and powerful. She offers insight into the historical development of the prison system and its systemic racist character in the US. A striking aspect of her research is that the development of the modern prison system (beginning in the 18th c. in Europe and 19th c. in the US) was actually initiated by prison reformers. These reformers wanted to create a rehabilitative system for "criminals." These reformers also wished to end public forms of pu ...more
Much of this book synthesizes the same information as in The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness and other literature on prison abolition & alternative justice in the US; it's a snappy and powerhouse 115 pages to get it all, all the intersections too.

Aside from the weighty import of reading an intellectual founder of the movement, those last 15 pages on Abolitionist Alternatives make this Angela Davis work particularly nourishing. "Let go of the desire to discover
Apr 04, 2013 Stephanie rated it it was ok
After reading The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness this book was a bit of a let down. David did address women in prison, which I appreciated, and she did get to her support for the abolition of prisons- but not until the last chapter, along with some suggestions for improving the system. I also read this after watching a TV news show about a program in which eight drug felons were selected for a new pr ...more
Jul 19, 2015 Carl rated it liked it
Are prisons obsolete? Hmmm...

In demonstrating that today's prisons have evolved directly from systems of slavery and convict leasing to become institutions inextricably linked with capitalist, racist, and sexist exploitation, Davis makes the answer fairly obvious: prisons are still quite necessary for their intended purposes.

Perhaps a better question is whether the idea of criminal rehabilitation is obsolete, and if so, what should replace it.

While Davis' central question may be a bit off-base,
Dec 11, 2014 Taylor rated it it was amazing
To me, this book is so incredibly poignant at this moment in history, and for some reason I continue to experience massive déjà vu about the white man's burden for my people in this country. We are simply living in times that repeat themselves over and over again, in different and more repressive formats against the bearers of the earth.

There are now armed security guards at schools. Metal detectors and little black kids being arrested in classrooms, faces smashed against old desks and pencils.
Aug 11, 2014 Garren rated it it was ok
When I asked for materials to better understand the "prison abolition" movement a while back, this was one of the recommended books. Now that I've read it, I think I understand the movement better yet I'm still frustrated in the same way.

What I saw here--and in the other literature I read at the time--was a call to move beyond prison reform. Elsewhere, prison reform was characterized as self-defeating because it's only ever a token public relations move to cover ever-worsening conditions. Davis
Feb 14, 2014 Erin rated it liked it
The book wasn't completely useless. I have taken away a lot from reading it. What makes my rating three stars, however, is the title of the book. Davis didn't really give me enough information to make me feel comfortable with saying that prisons aren't necessary at all. Although, she did open my eyes to the need for reform. Her solutions were vague and unsatisfying. I could have pulled those solutions out of my head before I read the chapter. There was no solid plan, lots of romanticizing the sy ...more
Julian Powell
Apr 23, 2015 Julian Powell rated it really liked it
I re-read this book maybe once a year, and sadly only grows more relevant as more and more police brutality and killings are publicized. I got it after seeing Angela Davis at the Riverside Church in Harlem back in 2012. It was a life-changing experience. I had already been a few years into my current meditation practice, and seeing her surrounded by angelic sculptures and organ instruments induced a vision of the psycho-spiritual dimensions of the prison-industrial complex that situated itself a ...more
Apr 17, 2015 Cat rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, activism
I would love to read an updated version of this book that includes the issues that have come up in the last decade, and with some mention of transmisogyny as perpetrated by the prison industrial complex. This book was fantastic, and gave me a new eye to conversations about incarceration. I have much to think about now.
Dec 21, 2012 Kim rated it it was amazing
clear, compelling, and fairly accessible. Angela Davis doesn't mess about: this book is not long, but presumes little prior knowledge and packs a lot of punch. also: doesn't falter when discussing alternatives, at all; the alternatives put forward are concrete, generally tried & tested, and they are achievable.
Jun 22, 2014 Camille rated it it was amazing
Please stop what you are doing and read this very short and informative book. Yes, you. Whether you are a law and order type or a leftie disestablishmentarian, whether you know lots about prisons or almost nothing, you will learn SO SO much about how prisons are and came to be such a dominating force in our society. So often people go through their day taking prison for granted but it turns out the modern prison is a rather recent introduction and is in fact the result of what some thought were ...more
Oct 24, 2014 Ricky rated it it was amazing
Brilliant introductory book to prison abolition. Ties together key historical moments with a strong theoretical framework. I'm sad it took me so long to read it! Being a prison abolition activist, I'd heard many of Angela Davis and others' arguments before, so the book wasn't personally earth shattering. A highly, highly recommend to everyone though!

Ps: A lot of reviews on goodreads are like "all she does is summarize what other people have said." You should know that the work of Angela Davis ,
May 31, 2012 Bob rated it it was amazing
Shelves: bob-s-book

Love this book. I can't wait to read it again and take notes and compare it with some other things I have been reading about privatization of state functions - though this goes way beyond that...
Mar 24, 2015 Hayden rated it it was amazing
Mind-blowingly good; articulate, well-researched, and persuasive, it not only examined the problems of imprisonment but successfully articulated the arguments for radical alternatives.
Jul 16, 2014 Emilia rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites

"Forget about reform, it's time to talk about abolishing jails and prisons in American society . . . Still—abolition? Where do you put the prisoners? The 'criminals'? What's the alternative? First, having no alternative at all would create less crime than the present criminal training cen ters do. Second, the only full alternative is building the kind of society that does not need prisons: A decent redis tribution of power and income so as to put out the hidden fire of burning envy th
Mar 18, 2009 Devon rated it it was amazing
concise argument against prisons and the pic
Mar 24, 2013 Keanu rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Excellent critique of the prison system.
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Anarchist & Radic...: [Jan/Feb 2013] Davis - Are Prisons Obsolete? 8 55 Mar 05, 2013 10:58AM  
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Angela Yvonne Davis is an American political activist, scholar, and author. She emerged as a nationally prominent activist and radical in the 1960s, as a leader of the Communist Party USA, and had close relations with the Black Panther Party through her involvement in the Civil Rights Movement despite never being an official member of the party. Prisoner rights have been among her continuing inter ...more
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“[Prison] relieves us of the responsibility of seriously engaging with the problems of our society, especially those produced by racism and, increasingly, global capitalism.” 71 likes
“The prison therefore functions ideologically as an abstract site into which undesirables are deposited, relieving us of the responsibility of thinking about the real issues afflicting those communities from which prisoners are drawn in such disproportionate numbers. This is the ideological work that the prison performs—it relieves us of the responsibility of seriously engaging with the problems of our society, especially those produced by racism and, increasingly, global capitalism.” 3 likes
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