Are Prisons Obsolete?
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Are Prisons Obsolete?

4.27 of 5 stars 4.27  ·  rating details  ·  1,223 ratings  ·  92 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
ebook, 128 pages
Published January 4th 2011 by Seven Stories Press (first published April 10th 2003)
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Brad
Apr 10, 2011 Brad rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition 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...more
Natasha
Jun 08, 2011 Natasha rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition 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
Elizabeth
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
Chris
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
Kevin
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...more
Romina
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
J.P.
This book challenged me & made me think deeply about the topic. Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) Why does such a thing need to exist? How far reaching are the effects of the Prison Industrial Complex?

This book goes into the history of prisons, how they came to be in the U.S. & the problems that arose or were exacerbated because of them. It is made very clear that it is not about rehabilitation. Initially it was a way to put newly freed black people, as well as the poor or anyone...more
Tinea
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...more
Stephanie
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
Scott
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
Rin
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
Joey Diamond
This little book does everything you would hope for and more. The links to slavery and post-slavery forms of punishment are so horribly well drawn. The very idea of prisons, and prison reform is so well contextualized so that i understood that prisons are just the thing of the moment and there is a chance there might be a post-prison moment some day.
Kim
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.
Bob


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...
Devon
concise argument against prisons and the pic
Keanu
Excellent critique of the prison system.
Lauren
After skimming and reading excerpts of this book several times over the years, I finally read it cover to cover. Very readable and approachable, maybe more important today than when it was published 10 years ago. Puts the penitentiary and imprisonment in its often unquestioned historical and social context and explores the dependence of these constructions as they exist in the US on the constructions of race, gender, and class. Also explores the profitability of the prison industrial complex bey...more
David Spencer
Wow. I can't even get over how in love with this book I am. Took it out from the library, but will definitely be picking this up for my own personal library. I've attended a workshop at the Victoria Anarchist Bookfair that touched on a lot of the stuff covered in the last chapter and then some, but Angela Davis, like bell hooks, has a lot of passion and irrefutable articulation of ideas. The intersection of racism, sexism, capitalism, authoritarianism and homophobia in the prison industrial comp...more
Adam
Almost a decade before Michele Alexander, Angela Davis asked "Are Prisons Obsolete?"

Not waiting for an answer, Professor Davis dives head first into an extraordinarily readable case for prison abolition, over prison reform. In a pocket-sized book that packs a wallop, she beings by concretizing the direct lineage between slavery, civil rights, and the modern incarceral apparatus. Then, turning her attention to the problems of reform, she also deconstructs arguments that try to separate gender fro...more
Mo
A thought-provoking read that has caused me to further investigate the prison industrial complex and how it influences communities and society at large, namely by diverting finds from that which builds citizens up- i.e. education and other forms of empowerment - instead of criminalizing them.

Notable quotes:

"Today, the growing social movement contesting the supremacy of global capital is a movement that directly challenges the rule of the planet- its human, animal, and plant populations, as well...more
Laura
Nov 20, 2012 Laura rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: everyone!
Recommended to Laura by: The Black Power Mixtape 1963-1975
Overall I think this book was great. I really liked how the author discussed the history of American prisons, and how they form the latest link in a chain that includes segregation and Jim Crow laws, the Black Codes of the South, and ultimately slavery. Her point about how people of power - white people - could not imagine a different system for dealing with crime/"crime" than what was in place during their lives, and how these systems did ultimately change, is useful to keep in mind when thinki...more
Amy
Angela Davis provides compelling arguments for abolishing prisons. She acknowledges that many people, even those who are opposed to the death penalty, just cannot imagine a world without prisons. However, historically there have been many institutions that Americans could never imagine going away - namely slavery. The prison industrial complex that joins corporations with imprisonment as punishment makes it harder for prisons to go away, but for reasons that we should already oppose (just becaus...more
Libby
Only in the final chapter does the book deal with alternative visions of deterring crime and rehabilitating offenders. Mainly treats the prison-industrial-complex and human rights abuses. Very provocative is the content on the state as perpetrating sexual assault.
"In the 1990s, the variety of corporations making money from prisons is truly dizzying, ranging from Dial Soap to Famous Amos cookies, from AT&T to health-care providers." p. 99
"The fact, for example, that many corporations with gl...more
Sara Salem
A classic on the Prison Industrial Complex in the US. Davis shows that abolishing prisons is the only way forward, since reforming them is impossible. She wrote this book some time ago and since then things have only gotten worse, with over 2 million Americans in jail and most of these non-white.
Michael Burnam-fink
Davis does an admirable job demonstrating that prisons are racist, unjust, and a central component of a system of exploitation that damages American democracy and economic opportunity. But the fact that prisons are terrible, both in their effects on society and at achieving their stated mission of reducing crime and reforming criminals, does not mean that they are obsolete. The strengths of this book, in linking prisons to endemic American racism and a toxic nexus of political-corporate-senesati...more
Kaliseviltwin
May 29, 2008 Kaliseviltwin rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: people interested in justice
Recommended to Kaliseviltwin by: Carly Stair
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Don
I was impressed with this book. Ms. Davis makes the case for abolishing prisons. She makes it clear that the impetus for the increased incarceration of people of color was first the lack of free labor after slavery and later the profit motive as more and more public prisons are turned over to the the private sector. The most satisfying moment, though the idea is not to new for me, was her declaration that we need to move away from the punishment aspect of prisons to a system that addresses issue...more
Jen
Angela Davis, the infamous (and justifiably so) radical activist, writes this concise, eye opening manifesto on the horrid conditions of the US prison system -- and the role it plays in oppressing women, people of color, and the human race as a whole. A particularly great, if not infuriating, chapter is the effect of prisons on women -- from the standpoint of sexual abuse, space, etc. My critique of Davis, like most radical writers, is the lack of conclusion in this overall argumentation. What a...more
Anastasia Kozak
Clearly written and expertly argued. Would be a great text to teach to the undergrads across disciplines. My only regret is that Davis doesn't spend more time discussing the alternatives to incarceration introduced in the final chapter.
Beka
A great introduction to the history of the prison industrial complex. Offers a convincing argument for prison abolition, minus sufficient alternatives. Still, fantastic and thought-provoking. I'm so very glad she touches on the current state of the urban school climate:

"When children attend schools that place a greater value on discipline and security than on knowledge and intellectual development, they are attending prep schools for prison. If this is the predicament we face today, what might t...more
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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.” 35 likes
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