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Prison Abolition In Practice --Part two of an interview with Criminal Injustice Kos

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Focusing on the prison abolitionist movement, we interview two co-editors of an exciting new series at Daily Kos, called Criminal InJustice Kos, a weekly series "devoted to exploring the myths of 'crime', 'criminals', and criminal justice and the intersection of race/ethnicity/class/gender/sexuality/age/disability in policing and punishment. Criminal Injustice Kos is committed to furthering action towards reducing inequity in the US criminal justice system." Look for Criminal InJustice Kos every Wednesday at 6 pm CST.

Here, in the second part of our interview, we focus on the practicality of prison abolition and look at alternatives to the US prison system. Read part one here.

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Kay Whitlock (whose online name is "RadioGirl") is a Montana-based writer, organizer, and activist long engaged in progressive struggles for racial, gender, queer, environmental, and economic justice. She has written extensively on the intersection of race, gender, sexuality, and class in relation to police and prison violence, most notably in her former position as National Representative for LGBT Issues for the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker organization. Her publications for AFSC include Corrupting Justice: A Primer for LGBT Communities on Racism, Violence, Human Degradation & the Prison Industrial Complex (pdf download and In a Time of Broken Bones: A Call to Dialogue on Hate Violence and the Limitations of Hate Crimes Legislation (pdf download). With Joey L. Mogul and Andrea J. Ritchie, she is the co-author of Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States, forthcoming from Beacon Press in February 2011 an analysis of queer criminalization, centering race, class, and gender, from colonial contact to the present.

Dr. Nancy Heitzeg (whose online name is "soothsayer99") is an activist educator and Professor of Sociology and Co-Director of the interdisciplinary Critical Studies of Race/Ethnicity program at SaintCatherineUniversity. She has written and presented widely on the subjects of race, class, gender and social control. She is the author of Deviance: Rule-makers and Rule-breakers, and several articles exploring issue of race class gender and social control including: "Differentials in Deviance: Race, Class, Gender and Age" (in The International Handbook of Deviant Behavior, Routledge, forthcoming Summer 2010); "The Case Against Prison: in Prison Privatization: The State of Theory and Practice (forthcoming Fall 2010), "Education Not Incarceration: Interrupting the School to Prison Pipeline"(Forum on Public Policy, Oxford University Press, Winter 2010); "The Racialization of Crime and Punishment: Criminal Justice, Color-Blind Racism and the Political Economy of the Prison Industrial Complex"(with Dr. Rose Brewer, which appeared in a special volume co-edited by Dr. Heitzeg and Dr. Rodney Coates, of American Behavioral Scientist: Micro-Level Social Justice Projects, Pedagogy, and Democratic Movements, Winter 2008); and Race, Class and Legal Risk in the United States: Youth of Color and Colluding Systems of Social Control" (Forum on Public Policy, Oxford University Press, Winter 2009).

Be sure to read our earlier two-part interview with Heitzeg, published by Truthout, part one: Visiting a Modern Day Slave Plantation and part two: The Racialization of Crime and Punishment.

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Angola 3 News: What are practical alternatives to the current prison system? What examples do we have when looking from an international perspective? Examples from here in the US?

Kay Whitlock: Accumulating overreliance on more policing, harsher punishments, and an expanded prison system to allegedly produce "safety" in our society has effectively shuttered our collective ability to think about justice outside the framework of prisons. There are very few real alternatives for that reason. Clearly, the prison system is not going to be abolished in one fell swoop that's not realistic. But we also lack strategic capacity for thinking clearly and synergistically about how to begin interrupting the revolving door, self-perpetuating nature of the criminal legal system. And how to divert resources that otherwise might to into more policing and prisons into broader community safety strategies that also address the needs of communities of color and other groups most likely experience violence within families, communities, and the criminal legal system. These include undocumented immigrants, poor and homeless people in general, people with mental illness, women, youth, queers who challenge middle-class heteronormativity, people with addictions, and more.

There's no funding for real alternatives. No political will to find them over time. No broad-based faith leadership that calls us to new directions. Possible options are being choked to death by political and religious cowardice and failure of imagination. So that's our challenge: to find inventive, intriguing, and constructive ways to shake up public discourse and get practical about new directions. To reach outside of that long shadow of prison that deadens our public imagination in order to think in fresh ways about these things and start creating more community capacity to confront multiple kinds of violence at the hands of individuals, the state, corporations, and a whole host of public/private institutions.

Thank goodness, pockets of real imagination are found in a growing number of more locally based groups and organizations, often led by people from the communities who historically have borne the systemic brunt of police/prison violence. Focusing on strategies that seek to interrupt the revolving-door nature of the criminal legal system and how to divert resources that otherwise might go into more policing and prisons they tackle specific issues such as violence against queers, women, and children in ways that open up broader discussions about the creation of community safety.

Here are just a few groups working from various angles to create community safety without reliance on more policing and prisons:

Creative Interventions (Oakland) (This link is to an interview with CI founder Mimi Kim; I've had trouble recently linking to the Creative Interventions website, which is found here.): Developing community-based responses to domestic and sexual violence in communities of color, queer, and immigrant communities without involving police, as well as strategies aimed at promoting the healthy transformation of all people involved and the larger community.

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Over 40 years ago in Louisiana, 3 young black men were silenced for trying to expose continued segregation, systematic corruption, and horrific abuse in the biggest prison in the US, an 18,000-acre former slave plantation called Angola. In 1972 and (more...)
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