May 18, 2011
In the late 1700s and early 1800s, many Americans called for the abolition of slavery.
Today, a number of Americans are working for the abolition of the present way of incarceration – including noted scholar, activist and author Angela Y. Davis.
Davis discussed her reasons for calling for drastic changes in imprisonment in an ASU lecture titled “Education or Incarceration? The Future of Democracy” sponsored by Project Humanities in conjunction with the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.
According to Davis, more African-American men are entangled in the justice system today than were enslaved in 1850. “The United States has 5 percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, and the highest incarceration rate in the world,” she said.
“As we lag behind in high school graduation, costs soar for prison, probation and parole.”
In the lecture, to a packed house in Neeb Hall, Davis cited a new report by the NAACP, “Misplaced Priorities: Under Educate, Over Incarcerate,” that, according to the NAACP, “uncovers a disturbing connection between high incarceration rates and poorly performing schools” and “tracks the steady shift of state funds away from education and toward the criminal justice system.”
“What is incredible,” Davis said, “is that prison spending has nothing to do with creating a better world or fewer crimes. For example, people who commit violence against women now go to jail, but the amount of violence against women hasn’t been reduced. That ought to tell us it’s not working.”
Davis said it seems absurd that, in the United States, much of the financial resources needed to educate people and to help solve social ills are used for prison costs.
“This is why many people are talking about the idea of prison abolition,” she added. “Prisons are devoted to violence, destruction and theft. Prison used to be about rehabilitation, but it’s not anymore.”
Davis said that the U.S. prison economy is “not small anymore,” and that every activity in prison has been tied to profit making, such as food, telephones, and so forth.
Private prison companies are growing, and, Davis said, one company’s executives believe that “immigration detention is their next big market. They’re only concerned about profit, not people.”
She asserted that prisons are dismantling programs such as education and 12-step recovery as a cost-saving measure.
“I spent a day in one of the two largest women’s prisons in the entire world. The women were talking about how there was nothing to do.”
Davis cited the example of Malcolm X, who, according to his new biography, “reinvented himself as a public intellectual in prison by educating himself,” she said. “Malcolm X represents the choice of education over incarceration. When Malcolm X was behind bars he had access to books. In the last 20 years virtually all the educational resources have been dismantled.”
In conclusion, Davis said she advocates “the abolition of prison as a dominant means of punishment, and the creation of a radically different notion of justice.”
Following the lecture, Davis signed copies of her newest book, Are Prisons Obsolete?
From the ASU website.