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Are Prisons Obsolete?

4.33  ·  Rating Details ·  2,745 Ratings  ·  203 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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Oct 05, 2009 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
Paquita Maria Sanchez
Feb 21, 2016 Paquita Maria Sanchez rated it really liked it
There's a lot of important information here (most of which can be found in Michelle Alexander's excellent book The New Jim Crow, and in more detail). Really, the only disappointing thing for me about the text is that it doesn't answer its own last question: what do we do with the dangers to society—remorseless murderers and serial rapists, specifically—if we are operating under the belief that mental health lock-downs are also cages, i.e. bad? I feel like that is too nagging an issue to mention ...more
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
Extremely eye opening book. It attempts to deconstruct the idea of prisons, it proposes that punishment never was and never will be an effective antidote to crime, and that under capitalistic, racist, sexist, and classist societies, prisons are bound to be exploitive, oppressive and discriminatory institutions. Its written very well, it doesn't oversimplify anything, yet at the same time Davis' style is very approachable and affective. (mostly US centered)
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
Hasan Makhzoum
Nov 10, 2016 Hasan Makhzoum rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

I would like to dedicate a copy of Angela's book to Ann Coulter.

Philanthropy, Altruism, Humanism. Try it sometime. It feels good.

Because it would be too agonizing to cope with the possibility that anyone, including our selves, could become a prisoner, we tend to think of the prison as disconnected from our own lives (..)
We thus think about imprisonment as a fate reserved for others, a fate reserved for the "evildoers," to use a term recently popularized b
Oct 15, 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
Lucie Lacoste
Feb 15, 2016 Lucie Lacoste rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bml, read-in-2016
Angela Davis, ancienne détenue, décrit les problèmes du système carcéral notamment américain : lien entre esclavage et prisonniers, le genre et la prison, l'industrialisation du système carcéral. Elle en vient enfin à des propositions de fonds pour à terme abolir le système carcéral en changer le fonds de la société : idées pour l'amélioration du système éducatif et de santé ...

Vraiment très complet même si la fin est utopiste.
Dec 22, 2012 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!
Reads very smoothly and concisely about the prison industrial complex and possible alternatives. Good prelude to the New Jim Crow book by Michelle Alexander
May 06, 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
May 12, 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
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
A punch in the gut in the best way possible. I read this after watching the documentary 13th, and it seems that the problems Davis identified in 2003 haven't gone way or improved. A really insightful examination of the history of imprisonment in the U.S.; the linkage between race, poverty, gender, and criminalization in the late 20th-century; and a necessary read for anyone who wants to promote social justice around the world.
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 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
Humza Hussain
Oct 20, 2016 Humza Hussain rated it really liked it
For such a concise book, I was amazed to find such thought provoking ideas. Angela Davis is truly remarkable in the way she can make such strong points using as few words as possible.

"Since the 1980's the prison system has become increasingly ensconced in the economic, political and ideological life of the United States and the transactional trafficking in the U.S. commodities, culture, and ideas. Thus, the prison industrial complex is much more than the sum of all the jails and prisons in this
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
Dec 30, 2013 Charlie rated it liked it
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
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
tom bomp
Nov 28, 2013 tom bomp 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
Dec 28, 2016 christina rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction
Are Prisons Obsolete? According to Davis, in usefulness, absolutely, but in prevalence, absolutely not. Davis carves out a detailed study against incarcerations by highlighting the prison system as a refurbished form a slavery in both employment (for shockingly low wages: maximum wage earned for Federal prisoners as of 2016, is $1.15; for privately owned prisons, $0.40), and how their bodies were used as involuntary subjects in medical research as well as used for sexual violence and humiliation ...more
Jun 11, 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
Mar 24, 2013 Stephanie rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Mar 03, 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
Alice Lippart
Feb 11, 2017 Alice Lippart rated it really liked it
Eloquent and powerful. Works well as an introduction to this topic, and even if you've read quite a lot about it, it's still worth checking out.
I. Merey
Feb 23, 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
Samih Mubarak
الكتاب ممتاز ، بدي تحليل كويس لي سؤال البديل شنو للسجون و استراتيجية بتاعت تغيير و خطة واضحة للشغل على الحاجة دي ، في البداية بتكلم عن نشأة السجون و الظروف التاريخية المصاحبة و ليه السجن بقى مؤسسة باقية لي يوم الليلة كعقوبة لي كل الجرائم في المساحة بين الغرامة و الاعدام، و بعد داك بتدخل البعد بتاع الجندر و العرق بالاضافة للوضع الطبقي و علاقة السلطة بالسجن و ليه الديمقراطية بتطلب التخلص من السجون في تحليل ممتاز و مصادر متنوعة.
Jan 04, 2017 Ramsee rated it it was amazing
Amazing!!! Must read!!! Don't be deceived by the length of this book! It packs a powerful well written punch. Angela Davis challenges your thinking about what the American Justice system really is. It forces you to think outside your bubble, to accept that slavery is very much still a reality and how it's never stopped being a for profit business.
Apr 17, 2015 Ossian 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.
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Anarchist & Radic...: [Jan/Feb 2013] Davis - Are Prisons Obsolete? 8 63 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.” 96 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.” 10 likes
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