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Are Prisons Obsolete?

4.38  ·  Rating details ·  4,314 ratings  ·  338 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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4.38  · 
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 ·  4,314 ratings  ·  338 reviews

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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 th ...more
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
Feb 21, 2016 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 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
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
Mar 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: political-theory
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!
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
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 b
Oct 15, 2009 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
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
Apr 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Yes they are.
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
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.
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
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
Tifanny Burks
Jan 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book allowed me to start envisioning what would a world look like without prisons. A world that could actually provide for their people. Being a restorative Justice Circle keeper, which is a community non-punitive approach to handling conflict, this made me further believe that we have all the resources we need to practice the alternative to the current criminal justice system that has proven itself null & void in rehabilitating people.
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.
Dec 22, 2012 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!
Zachary Rosengarten
Jan 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Both gut-wrenching and awe-inspiring, this should honestly be required reading. The dual creation of the novel and prisons as a means to an end for capital and corporal punishment is an especially salient point.
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 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
Angela Davis makes a very strong argument for prison abolition. Prisons are supposed to punish inmates by temporarily limiting their freedom to the outside world, not by exploiting their labor nor doling out physical, sexual, and mental abuse. Prisons are racist, sexist, homophobic, and anti-worker. Both private and public iterations of prisons are linked with capitalism and multi-national corporations which profit off of the suffering of others. Prisons can't be reformed but only eliminated for ...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
Jenn Sarich
Mar 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
I am wanting to explore prison-abolition as a potential topic for my postgrad work and this book really helped me grasp the idea a lot better. It’s a complex topic ! This book is very factual and has an academic tone so I do think I may need to reread as some parts went way over my head. It discusses the origins of “the prison”, gender issues, the political issues, the histories of other abolition movements and how we hypocritically allow those immoral actions to continue within prisons and then ...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
“[Prison] relieves us of the responsibility of seriously engaging with the problems of our society, especially those produced by racism and, increasingly, global capitalism.” 125 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.” 22 likes
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