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Are Prisons Obsolete?

4.55  ·  Rating details ·  19,343 ratings  ·  2,034 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
Oct 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: black-writers
If you aren’t in the position to financially support authors right now and/ or lend books out from your local library, you can read this essential text online here:

However, I would implore anyone who has the means to support Angela Davis financially to do so because she has been a force for so many decades and her work and activism is so important, and I truly think our world would be a worse place were she not in it.


Before I jumped into this text, I ha
elena ❀ [on hiatus bc of finals]
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
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 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: recs, 2020
I've discovered that I've developed an obsession with Angela Davis over the past few months. I've been watching/listening to her interviews, downloading cool looking pictures of her and essentially scouring through articles/speeches by and about her with the sole aim of stalking her intellectual development. Who could blame me? She is marvelous and this book along with the others, stands as testimony to that fact.

I believe with the recent calls to defund the police in the United States, this boo
Jun 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Berengaria di Rossi
4.5 stars

Personal opinion first: I am VERY happy I read this. It is eye-opening in a number of ways and I learned important bits of history that I knew nothing about.
Since I tend to socially iconoclastic ideas just in general, I found the argumentation largely convincing and enjoyed Davis' restrained, mild academic style. It's an excellent piece to add to the puzzle of systemic change.

Anyone interested in real systemic change will probably want this short overview of prison history an
Roy Lotz
Jun 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
Despite the important gains of antiracist social movements over the last half century, racism hides from view within institutional structures, and its most reliable refuge is the prison system.

If you know anything about Angela Davis—anti-racist activist, Marxist-feminist scholar—you know that her answer to the question posed in the title is “Yes.” This is a short primer on the prison abolition movement, written at a time (2003) when criminal justice reform was not an especially popular topic
Jun 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
“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.”

prisons. for many people an undeniable, unquestionable pillar of society. it’s where you put the Bad People after they’ve been convicted so they won’t harm the Good People anymore. easy, because you won’t have to think about them anymore and they’re out of societ
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
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
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! ...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) ...more
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
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
Paul Ataua
Feb 05, 2021 rated it it was ok
‘Are Prisons Obsolete?’ does a lot. It examines the historical, economic, and political reasons that led to prisons. It also goes into how racist and sexist prisons are. It gives you lots of insight into what women in prison have to go through. That part is particularly shocking. It then reaffirms that prisons are racist and misogynistic. All these things need to be stated again and again, so there is no complaint so far. And yet, right up to the last chapter I found myself wondering whether a b ...more
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
Emma Cathryne
Feb 17, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
A deeply revelatory read that made me revisit a lot of assumptions I had made about the origins and purpose of prisons and the criminal justice system generally. Davis makes a powerful case for choosing abolition over reform, and opened my eyes to the deeply racist structures inherent in the prison system. A quick but heavy read, I would highly recommend this to anyone looking to get a nuanced description of the case for prison abolition.
Amber (amberinbookland)
I already want to reread this.
Jenna is buying a house and mostly too busy for GR ❤ ❀  ❤
A compelling look at why prisons should be abolished. Though the statistics outdate it (it's even worse now), the reasons why we should no longer have prisons are just as critical as when Angela Davis wrote this.

Sierra Collins
Feb 05, 2021 rated it really liked it
An excellent read, but of course, it’s Angela Davis so I expected as much. I would have given it 5 stars since I strongly agree with the overall message of de-criminalization and the de-privatization of prisons, however, the end of the last chapter just didn’t seem intellectually or ethically satisfying to me.
Davis brings up the common concern that if there were no prisons or death penalty, then how would society deal with the people who violate the rights and safety of others such as murderers
Mia Vicino
Jun 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
the answer is yes
“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
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
Jul 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
I found this book to be a compact, yet richly informative introduction to the discourse on prison abolition. I appreciated the elucidation of the historical context of the prison industrial complex and its deeply entrenched roots in racism, sexism and capitalism. The prison, as it is, is not for the benefit of society; its existence and expansion is for the benefit of making profit and works within a framework that is racist and sexist. It does not advocate for a future that ensures the restorat ...more
Jan 02, 2022 rated it it was amazing
Fairly interesting if not slightly dated (published in 2003) discussion of the U.S. prison system. I'm not sure how the complete discontinuation of prisons would practically work. Nonetheless, I learned new things about mass incarceration, female prisoner abuses, and supermax prisons (including 2 in my state). Free prison labor is also talked about. The recent use of private prisons contributes to the "prison-industrial complex" the author addresses. Since I write crime fiction, I have an intere ...more
Pranav Goel
Oct 24, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: abolition, race
Brilliant. Angela Davis is such a great writer. This book is concise, engaging, and offers a great start to considering and understanding prison abolition. The examination of underlying institutions and systems, and their relationships in making prisons seem such a "standard" part of society and occupy such an "inevitable" standing in our psyche is done so well in this work. Every paragraph, to me, was eye opening. ...more
Nicole Miles
Nov 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This was a really thought-provoking piece of literature that I can't recommend highly enough. Davis gives an overview of the structure of the penal system–physically, ideologically, politically, economically, etc–primarily in the US, but also elsewhere in the world, and how it has been allowed to develop over time into a greater "prison industrial complex". She discusses, among other things, public perception of prisons and the way that has changed over the centuries, how the development on the ...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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79 likes · 20 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.” 220 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.” 74 likes
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