Both in the United States and around the world, incarceration is the default punishment for certain crimes. However, many individuals and organizations are rethinking the justice process, calling attention to the inequities caused by racial discrimination and unfettered capitalism. If you want to learn more about this topic, then here, listed in no particular order, is a selection of groups working against the prison-industrial complex.
Coming in at #1 is Initiate Justice. Launched in 2016 by Taina Vargas-Edmond and Richie Reseda, this Los Angeles-based organization strives to end mass incarceration. Using an approach that targets people both inside and outside prisons, it works with those who have been directly impacted by incarceration, particularly in California.
Initiate Justice focuses its efforts on education and advocacy. It runs the Institute of Impacted Leaders, a months-long training program covering community organizing, public policy, and criminal justice reform. Elsewhere, it disseminates important resources such as guides and webinars, which educate people on topics from prison abolition to the parole process.
In the #2 spot is SWOP Behind Bars. A chapter of the Sex Workers Outreach Project, SBB was founded in 2016. It serves currently and formerly incarcerated sex workers, connecting them to helpful resources like case management, food assistance, and skills training.
With a view toward harm reduction, SWOP Behind Bars educates, advocates, and supports community-building projects. Individuals can sign up to join the organization and gain access to assistance with legal aid and bail. The group amplifies the voices of sex workers on its website, where it shares insightful interviews and articles.
At #3 is the Release Aging People in Prison Campaign. Operating across New York State, this organization advocates for racial justice and an end to mass incarceration. An independent project, RAPP has received support from groups such as the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation and North Star Fund.
RAPP focuses on securing the release of older people, as well as those serving long prison sentences. Working against what it calls a culture of revenge and punishment, it mobilizes currently and formerly incarcerated individuals, their loved ones, and other community members. The group raises public awareness and educates people on release-related topics, such as parole, clemency, and policy matters.
Coming in at #4 is Community Action on Prison Expansion. Launched in 2014, this coalition works across England, Wales, and Scotland to prevent the rise of incarceration. A grassroots movement, CAPE organizes direct action against prison-building projects and the companies that profit from them.
CAPE is affiliated with a number of local organizations across the UK, including ones in Wigan, Yorkshire, and the Midlands. It encourages concerned individuals to mobilize on a community level, offering resources and support for newly formed groups. It also releases its own podcast and hosts events that cover topics like feminism and prison abolition.
In the #5 spot is Critical Resistance. Formed in the aftermath of a conference held in Berkeley in 1998, this grassroots organization has an overarching goal of dismantling the prison industrial complex. Taking aim at the related systems of imprisonment, surveillance, and policing, C.R. runs a number of campaigns and initiatives in support of its mission.
Specific endeavors include The Zachary Project, which provides assistance for community members in need, and Breaking Down the Prison Industrial Complex, an insightful video series. Its work runs from coast to coast, with chapters in cities such as New York, Los Angeles, and Portland. In 2005, Critical Resistance launched The Abolitionist, a bilingual newspaper sent free of charge to incarcerated persons across the country.
Last but not least, at #6 is Project NIA. Founded in Chicago by Mariame Kaba in 2009, this organization, which takes its name from the Swahili word for “with purpose,” works on behalf of children and young people in the criminal justice system. In particular, it opposes their arrest, detention, and incarceration, advocating instead for practices of restorative and transformative justice.
Past programs from this organization range from Circles & Ciphers, a youth-led gathering incorporating hip hop and restorative justice, to Liberation Library, an initiative to provide books to young people incarcerated in Illinois. In 2016, Project NIA moved to New York City, where it later formed the NYC Transformative Justice Hub. It continues to work against youth incarceration, sharing its research as well as numerous educational resources and toolkits.
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