#AmplifyBlackVoices: Angela Y. Davis

Angela Y. Davis is and American political activist, philosopher, academic, and author. She is the author of over ten books on class, feminism, and the U.S. prison system.

We chose her because she is a proponent of Prison Abolition. She asks two questions regarding prison:

  1. Are prisons racist institutions?
  2. Is racism so deeply entrenched in the institution of the prison that it is not possible to eliminate one without eliminating the other?

In a 2003 speech at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government she said:
You can’t think myopically. There is no place else [for the boys], so the default solution is prison. Why don’t we have other institutions? Our most difficult and urgent challenge to date, is that of creatively exploring new terrains of justice where the prison no longer serves as our major anchor.”

Trailer from the upcoming “The Black Power Mixtape” film

The following is excerpted from the introduction of “Are Prisons Obsolete?” (Open Media Book ,2003)

The reality is that we were called upon to inaugurate the twenty-first century by accepting the fact that two million people—a group larger than the population of many countries—are living their lives in places like Sing
Sing, Leavenworth, San Quentin, and Alderson Federal Reformatory for Women. The gravity of these numbers becomes even more apparent when we consider that the U.S. population in general is less than five percent of the world’s total, whereas more than twenty percent of the world’s combined prison population can be claimed by the United States. In Elliott Currie’s words, “[t]he prison has become a looming presence in our society to an extent unparalleled in our history or that of any other industrial
democracy. Short of major wars, mass incarceration has been the most thoroughly implemented government social program of our time. ‘

In thinking about the possible obsolescence of the prison, we should ask how it is that so many people could end up in prison without major debates regarding the efficacy of incarceration. When the drive to produce more prisons and incar­cerate ever larger numbers of people occurred in the 1980s during what is known as the Reagan era, politicians argued that ” tough on crime ” stances—including certain imprisonment and longer sentences—would keep communities free of crime. However, the practice of mass incarceration during that period had little or no effect on official crime rates. In fact, the most obvious pattern was that larger prison populations led not to safer communities, but, rather, to even larger prison populations. Each new prison spawned yet another new prison. And as the U.S. prison system expanded, so did corporate involvement in construction, provision of goods and services, and use of prison labor. Because of the
extent to which prison building and operation began to attract vast amounts of capital—from the construction industry to food and health care provision—in a way that recalled the emergence of the military industrial complex, we began to refer to a “prison industrial complex/’

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