4.3.11

Planned Obsolescence: The Internal Logic of Prisons

To abolish prison would be to abolish crime itself, so far as to say prisons are functionally designed to punish and rehabilitate those of us who are judged to be incapable of living in accordance with society’s guidelines, so that if this is not the case criminals might continue to perpetuate violence against their fellow neighbors in the communities they inhabit. Prisons serve as the domain whereby those who cannot function and where their own interpretation of reality is mutually incompatible with a free, safe, and open society, are separated and confined in a place other than the public domain. A common reference point—an Ideal—is therefore necessary for recognizing the “right” way to live that, if universally encompassing, would free humanity from criminality altogether, offering an alternative way of being that mutually benefits, or at least does not oppress or harm, the rest of society.

Prison abolition as a legitimate response to criminality demands several basic precepts, namely that prisons are NOT working as a means to deter crime (and may even be perpetuating or contributing to crime itself), that a period of systematic reconfiguration is necessary, and that retribution itself is secondary to rehabilitation. Broken down, we are talking about the abolition of punishment as the method to end crime, instead providing alternative ways of being in order to maintain a healthy relationship that does not conflict with the values of society. When a prison no longer has any functional purpose due to a social renewal of values, eliminating the accessibility and will to commit crime in the first place, planned obsolescence will become apparent since ideally, an institution is only created where it is needed.

Prison is itself an expression of the capitalistic tendencies scientifically proven, for all practical purposes, to be the prime motivation for the ecological devastation threatening mass extinction, implied in the precedence that short-term profit enjoys over long-term sustainability.

Prison: Abolition:: Industrial Society: Collapse

It is necessarily going to happen. Only way to survive is to mitigate consequences, where a sustainable infrastructure that determines a prosperous culture where every individual contributes to mutual self-empowerment leading to social renewal and an appreciated standard of living.

Yet however “freedom” is defined necessarily constructs for itself as a reference point an ideal by which to hold itself accountable, and which, when abridged, leads to punishment on the one hand, and rehabilitation on the other. This is of course simplistic when referring to the dynamics and complexities of the legal system as a whole, but demonstrates the fundamental simplicity of our basic understanding of right and wrong—the means by which everything is judged to have merit, and by which we can separate and more clearly strive to be what is “right.”

At least, this is the goal.

And therein lies the problem, for how can EVERYONE’S values be taken into consideration? Those who control Law undoubtedly shape reality (as people who follow the law can be expected to act in accordance) so that democratization of law becomes necessary to ensure mutual protection, mandate for egalitarian civil relations. Criminalization has in its crosshairs first and foremost criminals, so that any might be held in contempt if one was either ignorant, or in direct confrontation, with law.

Yet in a capitalist system, where so many profit from the legal system, evidences of exploitation are bound to occur. Society holds an ideal of itself. If that is not followed, people are punished for it or rehabilitated. The abolition of prisons presupposes a basic precept in approaches to criminal activity, namely that THINGS ARE NOT CURRENTLY WORKING. Rather, prisons are arguably perpetuating criminality itself. If such be the case, then it becomes necessary for society to re-imagine itself so that it not fall victim to an ever-increasing cultural force.

What exists is simply not cutting it anymore, i.e. scientifically proved not to work, and therefore must be systematically exterminated, cleanly removed from reality so that its presence might never again stain the social fabric that is the on the road to prosperity. Other phenomena have undergone such a harsh judgment in popular culture: slavery, the gold-standard, nuclear weapons, the federal reserve, the department of education, etc, to which it has been reasonably determined that such an institution is failing to uphold our natural rights as human-beings, of course calling into question who it is that defines natural rights, and then by extension, who defines law
The “abolition of prisons” amounts to the abolition of punishment, leading necessarily to the construction of alternative methods to persuade humanity to forego committing capital crimes, even if (and especially when) an opportunity that promises personal success at the expense of those consequently affected, so that members in relation to one another can act without fear of reprisal from one each other, even when mutual survival seems uncertain.

Ideally it would be some kind of democratic mechanism by which all of our values would be taken into account, but since such a force would be inhuman, we must instead settle for coming up with the most proficient representation of “informed” expression regarding legal affairs (and its aftermath) as we define it. The result would be dissuade criminality, allow for alternative modes of being (dissolving the definition so as to ensure no one falls under the heading of “criminal) with such accessibility as to subsequently perform the erasure of criminality itself, and likewise do so in a way that made criminal affairs not something to be prohibited, but rather markedly inferior to the way of being most beneficial to oneself. In short, the way to abolish prisons is to make them obsolete, devoid of all functional purpose since there would be no use for them in a more civil society.

One key question should be: are prisons there to punish or rehabilitate?

• Religious/spiritual/scriptural approaches to prison abolition
• Personal reflections on prison abolition from people who are or have been incarcerated
• The tension between addressing immediate crises and working toward long-term systemic change
• Gender and incarceration
• Private prisons
• Political economy of prisons
• Industry and prisons
• Prison labor
• Education in prisons (particularly innovative models)
• Long prison sentences/parole issues
• Barriers to reentry/reintegration, i.e. disenfranchisement, employment, housing

Analytical perspectives grounded in practices from different states and regions are interested in thoughts about transformation, both personal and systemic. In addition to addressing the dimensions of abolitionist thought, this issue will privilege the voices of people of faith at the forefront of the movement. We must encourage faith-based reflections to address one or more of the following questions:

1. How does your faith shape your relationship to prison justice work for systemic change of the penal system?
2. As an activist, why is faith important to you?
3. Prison is a multifaith environment. How does the multifaith nature of prison community shape the way faith communities are created and the way activism is done?

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