Imagining Prison Abolition

Imagine a world that is more just, laws that are more compassionate and people being freer.

Georgetown Law professor and author Paul Butler is very familiar with the U.S. criminal justice system. As a former prosecutor, he once fought for long sentences. Now he’s advocating for the abolition of prisons. While that sounds extreme, in this talk he explores what would replace prisons, how people who cause harm could be dealt with in the absence of incarceration, and why abolition would make everyone safer and our society more just.

Incarceration is a relatively recent development in the history of punishment, with the first modern prison constructed in Philadelphia in the early 1800s. The American penitentiary was intended as a reform, making the institution of punishment more humane and rehabilitative. Because the United States now locks up more people than almost any country in the history of the world, this nation is perhaps the best laboratory to assess the success of the experiment. By virtually any measure, prisons have not worked. They are sites of cruelty, dehumanization, and violence, as well as subordination by race, class, and gender. Prisons traumatize virtually all who come into contact with them. Is there a better way? He posits that 50% of the prison population could be released and we would feel no effect.

Butler frequently consults on issues of race and criminal justice. He feels the system is broken and advocates for non-violent drug offenders to receive treatment rather than punishment. Abolition of prison could be the ultimate reform. Butler is not saying there should be no consequences for criminality. He calls it gradual decarceration and looks at ways to accomplish the goals of prison more effectively.

Butler is a Professor in Law at Georgetown. His most recent book Chokehold: Policing Black Men, published in July 2017, was named one of the 50 best non-fiction books of 2017 by The Washington Post. The New York Times described Chokehold as the best book on criminal justice reform since The New Jim Crow. It was a finalist for the 2018 NAACP Image Award for best non-fiction.

Watch — Prison Abolition, and a Mule with Paul Butler

Criminal Justice and the Latinx Community

The criminal justice system’s impact on Latina and Latino people in Southern California and across the nation was the focus of the annual UCLA Law Review symposium at the UCLA School of Law. Featuring leading scholars and practitioners who work to uncover and combat the ways in which bias affects Latinx communities’ interactions with law enforcement, panelists addressed incarceration, policing, community organizing and criminal adjudication, plus related issues involving ethics and capital punishment.

UCLA Law professor emeritus Gerald López delivered the event’s keynote address. He captivated the crowd with reflections on his childhood in East Los Angeles in the 1950s, where he watched the criminal justice system target Latinx people — activity that, he noted, continues to this day.

“It left impressions on me that shape everything I do,” he said while encouraging budding attorneys and activists to continue his lifelong effort to respond to those challenges and “change the world.”

Browse more programs in Latinx Communities, Race, and the Criminal Justice System

What Happened to Klimt’s Golden Lady?

8232Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds tell the story Hollywood-style in “Woman in Gold,” but if you want to know what it really took to get Klimt’s masterpiece back to its rightful owner, watch this!

The real Randol Schoenberg gives a riveting account of his work on behalf of Maria Altmann that makes their eventual triumph in Austrian courts all the more satisfying.

Watch What Happened to Klimt’s Golden Lady? with E. Randol Schoenberg on The Library Channel.