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Are Prisons Obsolete?

4.41  ·  Rating details ·  5,321 ratings  ·  425 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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Feb 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Another amazing book from Angela Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete? asks us to imagine a world without prisons, a world more focused on healing and rehabilitation than punishment. Davis delineates the history of prisons as well as how prisons perpetuate racism and sexism. Similar to Michelle Alexander in The New Jim Crow , Davis highlights how we in the United States grow up ingesting media narratives about the role of prisons and prisoners without questioning these problematic narratives. Through ...more
Apr 24, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2020
Rather, positing decarceration as our overarching strategy, we would try to envision a continuum of alterna­tives to imprisonment-demilitarization of schools, revital­ization of education at all levels, a health system that pro­ vides free physical and mental care to all, and a justice sys­tem based on reparation and reconciliation rather than retri­bution and vengeance.

In Are Prisons Obsolete?, Angela's goal is to have us envision a world without prisons, without capital punishment,
Oct 05, 2009 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
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 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
Incredibly informative and a pretty easy read. I agree with a lot of what Davis touches upon in this and would recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about anti-prison movement.

What I'm having trouble with, as I'm sure a lot of people also do, is that while I agree that the prison industrial complex must be abolished, I am not comfortable with the idea of violent criminals not receiving some sort of punishment for their crimes. Davis doesn't exactly give us an answer on what to do w
anna (½ of readsrainbow)
absolutely crucial read on the history of prisons, and especially the role racism, sexism, classicism play in the mass incarceration. but the last chapter on alternatives to prisons leaves the reader with a very few answers
MJ Beauchamp
Mar 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: words-on-words
Eye opening in term of historical facts, evolution, and social and economic state of affairs - and a rather difficult read personally, for the reflexions and emotions it awakens. Are Prisons Obsolete? presents an account of the racial and gender discrimination and practices currently in effect inside (mainly US) prisons. Though these issues are not necessarily unknown, the fact that they so widespread still and mostly ignored is extremely troubling. As Angela Davis brilliantly argues, supported ...more
Abeer Abdullah
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)
Raul Bimenyimana
Very informative and educating. Ms. Davis traces the history of the prison as a tool for punishment and the horrors of abuse and torture in these institutions and the exploitation of prisoners for profit through the prison industrial complex.

This was a challenging read in that it made me take a hard look on the views I had of prison and also because Ms. Davis calls for the complete abolition of prison in the justice system. It was difficult to imagine a society without prison, I'm still not quit
Mar 03, 2009 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
Feb 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
4.5 stars. A very short, accessible, and informative read about prisons and abolishing them. This would be a good introductory read for someone who is just starting to think deeply about mass incarceration. The book really did answer, if prisons were obsolete (yes). However, I was expecting more information on how to organize around abolition, and more detailed thoughts form Angela on what a world without prisons would look like. I guess this isn't the book for that!
Hasan Makhzoum
Nov 10, 2016 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
Liz Janet
Oct 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Last semester I had a class in which we discussed the prison system, which hiked my interest in understanding why private prisons exist, and the stupid way in which due to overcrowding, certain criminals are being left to walk free before heir sentence. Some of my questions were answered, but my interest flared when we had the 10-minute discussion on why the system still exists the way it does and the racial and gender disparities within.

“(we) think about imprisonment as a fate reserved for othe
Oct 15, 2009 rated it liked it
Review removed.
“The prison is a site of state violence and repression”

I am for prison abolition. Engaged and civic minded citizens, and in the case of Angela Davis, who I would even feel comfortable calling an engaged global citizen, saw from the early to mid-1990s that the consequences of an increasingly privatised prison system (and its encroachment on the satellite jail, youth detention centre, immigration detention centre) would fall to bear, with its inhuman weight, almost exclusively on the racialised ‘c
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 one
hima ☾
we would recognize that "punishment" does not follow from "crime" in the neat and logical sequence offered by discourses that insist on the justice of imprisonment, but rather punishment—primarily through imprisonment (and sometimes death)—is linked to the agendas of politicians, the profit drive of corporations, and media representations of crime. imprisonment is associated with the racialization of those most likely to be punished. it is associated with their class and, as we have seen, gen
Apr 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Yes they are.
tom bomp
Nov 28, 2013 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
Juliette Barasch
Mar 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2018
This book is fantastic and I hate that it took me so long to read it.
Apr 19, 2019 added it
Short but full of info and easy to read. Discusses history of prisons and how race and gender have influenced incarceration.
Anna Marie
Jan 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: abolition-utopia
the answer is yes!!
jasmine sun
Jan 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
so good. more accessible and concise than expected (2 hrs); brilliantly argued.

Davis elucidates the historical origins of the American prison system, showing how centuries of philosophical thought (slavery, the enlightenment, industrial capitalism, etc.) have justified and expanded its existence. she then makes the case for dismantling not just the prison walls, but the entire network of institutions that uphold its existence.

my favorite takeaways:
- "crime and punishment" are separate concepts
Dec 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"'Punishment' does not follow from 'crime' in the neat and logical sequence offered by discourses that insist on the justice of imprisonment, but rather punishment--primarily though imprisonment (and sometimes death)--is linked to the agendas of politicians, the profit drive of corporations, and media representations of crime. Imprisonment is associated with the racialization of those most likely to be punished. It is associated with their class and, as we have seen, gender structures the punish ...more
Giorgia Fontanini
Feb 21, 2016 rated it did not like it
I tried very hard to give this book at least another star, but really couldn't.
Even though it was packed with interesting, thought-provoking and well-researched data, it managed to frustrate me quite a bit at times.
I found most of the arguments that the author brought up to be weak and not fully developed. When she finally reached what in my opinion should have been the core of this little book (how do we abolish prisons and how do we replace them?), she just quickly listed some (quite problema
Apr 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I don't think I would have ever read this book if it wasn't assigned for a class. That being said, Angela Davis wrote a really informative, super interesting, easily readable book about a topic that I think everyone should be educated on. The criminal justice system permeates everyone's lives, yet few people understand the injustices and the complexities involved. Davis's book outlines a lot of very important topics in a very manageable 115 pages. Although the book does not solve the problems, D ...more
Scott Moore
May 12, 2008 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
Jake Bornheimer
Aug 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
This short book raises all the right questions. Definitely a good book for a first foray into the concept of prison abolition. The concept of the Prison-Industrial Complex, while not new to me, is fleshed out nicely here. For what it is, it does a great job, but leaves a lot to be desired in imagining abolitionist alternatives (as in the final chapter, which is a short 9 pages).

Overall, I would recommend this book to everybody. In fact, I'm lending it to my grandma right now. Oh and if anybody h
Jun 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
The contents of this book mostly won't be surprising to folks more familiar with the prison abolition movement. However, some of the points are very well made and it serves as an excellent introduction to things - I particularly found compelling the point that Davis made about how non-abolitionists seem to believe that abolitionists need to solve crime, when the reality is that the current prison system certainly hasn't done that.
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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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17 likes · 2 comments
“[Prison] relieves us of the responsibility of seriously engaging with the problems of our society, especially those produced by racism and, increasingly, global capitalism.” 147 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.” 26 likes
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