Reimagining Justice: A Primer on Defunding the Police and Prison Abolition

As demonstrations against racial injustice and police misconduct sweep the U.S., activists and scholars calling for massive decreases to police spending and deep, structural changes to the prison system have suddenly gained mainstream attention. To better understand the arguments for ‘defunding the police’ and abolishing prisons, explore this list of essential reading curated by political scientist Megan Ming Francis.

Abolish the Police? Organizers Say It’s Less Crazy Than It Sounds

Maya Dukmasova • Chicago Reader

Grassroots groups around Chicago are already putting abolitionist ideas into practice.

Is Prison Necessary? Ruth Wilson Gilmore Might Change Your Mind

Rachel Kushner • The New York Times

In three decades of advocating for prison abolition, the activist and scholar has helped transform how people think about criminal justice.

What Abolitionists Do

Dan Berger, Mariame Kaba, and David Stein • Jacobin

Prison abolitionists aren’t naive dreamers. They’re organizing for concrete reforms, animated by a radical critique of state violence.

Amnesty or Abolition?

Kelly Lytle Hernandez • Boom: A Journal of California

Felons, illegals, and the case for a new abolition movement.

The Challenge of Prison Abolition

History Is a Weapon

A conversation between Angela Y. Davis and Dylan Rodriguez

Freedom to Thrive: Reimagining Safety and Security in Our Communities

The Center for Popular Democracy

Over the last 30 years, at both the national and local levels, governments have dramatically increased their spending on criminalization, policing, and mass incarceration while drastically cutting investments in basic infrastructure and slowing investment in social safety net programs.

The Struggle to Abolish the Police is Not New

Garrett Felber • Boston Review

Prison and police abolition were key to the thinking of many midcentury civil rights activists. Understanding why can help us ask for change in our own time.

Calling the Police on Black People Can Put Them in Danger

Jenn M. Jackson • Teen Vogue

Black people’s citizenship remains tethered to whether or not white people feel “safe” around them.

Support For Defunding The Police Department Is Growing. Here’s Why It’s Not A Silver Bullet.

Simone Weichselbaum and Nicole Lewis • The Marshall Project

Past budget cuts have had unintended consequences. Now, proponents say it’s time to fundamentally reimagine the role of the police.

No More Money for the Police

Philip V. McHarris and Thenjiwe McHarris • The New York Times

Redirect it to emergency response programs that don’t kill black people.

Radical Imagination: Police Abolition (Podcast)

Radical Imagination

As cases of police abuse and misconduct gain attention, activists have moved beyond calls for reform to advocate for the abolition of police. It’s a controversial and widely misunderstood idea. How would police abolition work, exactly? How would we protect public safety? Radical Imagination host Angela Glover Blackwell explores these questions with humanitarian hip-hop artist Jessica Disu, a.k.a. FM Supreme, who has publicly called for police abolition.

Justice in America: Mariame Kaba and Prison Abolition (Podcast)

The Appeal

Josie and Clint discuss prison abolition with Mariame Kaba, one of the leading organizers in the fight against America’s criminal legal system and a contributing editor for The Appeal. Mariame discusses her own journey into this work, provides perspective on the leaders in this space, and helps us reimagine what the future of this system could look like.

Radical Commitments: The Life and Legacy of Angela Davis, Session on Abolition (Video)

Radcliffe Institute

A cross-generational group of leading scholars, activists, and incarcerated women lead discussions on the rich tradition of activism and social theory in the late 20th century using the life and work of the political activist and pioneering philosopher Angela Davis.

Ruth WIlson Gilmore Makes the Case for Abolition (Podcast)

The Intercept

A comprehensive road map for understanding how we have arrived at the present political moment of brutality and rebellion.

About the curator

Megan Ming Francis is a Visiting Associate Professor of Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School and Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Washington. She is author of the award-winning book Civil Rights and the Making of the Modern American State (2014) and is currently at work on a second book project that examines the role of convict leasing in the rebuilding of southern political power and modern capitalism after the Civil War.

Get fascinating articles like these directly in your inbox.

Join millions and sign up for Pocket’s daily newsletter.