Police, Prisons, & Abolition



Discussion questions:

  • What are the root causes of police brutality?
  • How is systemic racism reflected in the institution of policing?
  • Why is it important for socialists to demand the defunding of the police?
  • How does defunding the police differ from liberal reforms of the police?
  • How is defunding the police similar to or different from other “non-reformist” reforms (e.g. Medicare for All, College for All, Green New Deal)?
  • What else do we need to organize for, besides just defunding police?
  • What’s the potential for multiracial solidarity in the struggle against policing?
  • How can we most effectively organize to defund the police?
  • What would a world without police look like? What conditions would make such a world possible?
  • What’s the relationship between defunding and abolishing the police?
  • Should socialists be abolitionists? Why or why not?
  • What role can/should YDSA members play in the struggle against policing? What does this look like locally, regionally, and nationally?



Discussion questions:

  • Why do you think the U.S. has such a high rate of incarceration compared to the rest of the world?
  • How should socialists think about crime (however we want to define that)?
  • What social role do prisons serve in a capitalist society?
  • What is the difference between a prison reformist and a prison abolitionist demand?
  • Davis and Kaba both put forward visions of prison abolition, while Usmani takes a different approach. Which perspective do you agree with more? Should socialists be prison abolitionists? Why or why not? 
  • What is the connection between policing and prisons, or between police and prison abolition?
  • What does prison abolitionist organizing look like?


We Do This Til We Free Us, Mariame Kaba: “So You’re Thinking about Becoming an Abolitionist”, “Yes, We Mean Literally Abolish the Police” 

  • Why does Mariame Kaba and Alex Vitale argue that it’s misleading to argue that the police deter crime or keep us safe? Do you agree with them? 
  • Why does Mariame Kaba argue that liberal reforms have failed to reduce police violence or keep us safer? Do you agree with her?
  • Mariame Kaba writes, “When people, especially white people, consider a world without the police, they envision a society as violent as our current one, merely without law enforcement — and they shudder.” Why does she argue this is a misleading view of abolition? Do you agree with her view?
  • Mariame Kaba writes, “A world without harm isn’t possible and isn’t what an abolitionist vision purports to achieve. Rather, abolitionist politics and practice contend that disposing of people, by locking them away in jails and prisons, does nothing significant to prevent, reduce, or transform harm in the aggregate.” Why does she argue that the carceral approach to punishment fails to reduce harm? What is her vision of an alternative? Do you agree with her?

Angela Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete?, Ch. 6: “Abolitionist Alternatives”

  • Why does Angela Davis argue it’s so difficult for us to imagine an alternative to prisons? What’s her suggestion for how we can overcome this? Do you agree with her?
  • Angela Davis writes, “Schools can therefore be seen as the most powerful alternative to jails and prisons.” What does she mean by this? Do you agree with this? How does this relate to organizing that YDSA chapters might undertake?
  • Why is healthcare, including mental health care and drug treatment programs, important to the abolitionist vision?
  • How is the movement for immigrant rights linked to abolition?
  • How is feminism linked to abolition?
  • What kind of vision does Davis put forward to transforming our approach to justice? Do you agree with this vision?

8toAbolition demands

  • Take a look at this list of demands. Are there any demands that seem particularly strategic or winnable? Are there any that seem more difficult to win or that might be more difficult to organize around? Do you think these are the demands that we should be organizing around or are there different demands you’d want to put forward?
  • Do you think these are demands that YDSA or DSA chapters should organize around, and if so, what would that organizing look like? How, concretely, will we win these demands?

General Discussion Questions:

  • What is abolition? Should socialists be abolitionists?
  • How do we organize for abolition? What are the short-term demands? What is necessary for us to achieve the long-term vision?