How to Abolish Prisons: Lessons from the Movement Against Imprisonment

Regular price $ 18.95

by Rachel Herzing and Justin Piché

Haymarket Books

4/9/2024, paperback

SKU: 9798888900833


An incisive guide to abolitionist strategy, and a love letter to the movement that made this moment possible.

Critics of abolition sometimes castigate the movement for its utopianism, but in How to Abolish Prisons, long-time organizers Rachel Herzing and Justin Piché reveal a movement that has made the struggle for abolition as real as the institutions they are fighting against.

Drawing on extensive interviews with abolitionist crews all over North America, Herzing and Piché provide a collective reconstruction of what the grassroots movement to abolish prisons actually is, what initiatives it has launched, how it organizes itself, and how its protagonists build the day-to-day practice of politics. Readers sit in on the Winnipeg rideshares of Bar None and the meetings of the Chicago Community Bail Fund as they assess the utility of politicized mutual aid. They follow the campaigns and coalitions of Critical Resistance in Oakland and San Francisco and Survived and Punished in New York City, and learn about the prisoner correspondence projects that keep activists behind bars and outside them in constant coordination.

Abolitionist campaigns are constructing on-the-ground initiatives across North America to deconstruct carceral society and build resistant communities.Through the words, deeds, and personalities of this beautifully peopled movement, How to Abolish Prisons emerges as a stunning snapshot of a movement's thinking in motion.

With a foreword by Mariame Kaba.


"At their most effective, movements for radical change help to produce new ways of understanding the world, new epistemologies. Rachel Herzing and Justin Pichéeacute have provided an invaluable service by illuminating the part played by prison abolition activists in generating theories and practices that have the power to change our present-day realities and the potential to create lasting, radical transformations for the future." -Angela Y. Davis

"How to Abolish Prisons shows us that abolition is possible, because the work is already happening. This illuminating, grounded documentation of real efforts to dismantle carceral systems makes liberatory visions tangible. How to Abolish Prisons is an antidote to hopelessness. You will emerge from this book saying, 'We can do this!'" - Maya Schenwar, co-author of Prison by Any Other Name: The Harmful Consequences of Popular Reforms

"How to Abolish Prisons is a needed text by and for movement organizers. This book skillfully embodies the abolitionist spirit of imagination, practice making different, and generating wisdom through collective victories and challenges. By focusing on both why and how prison abolitionists fight, this book offers a treasury of gems on abolition as a practical politics of refusal, revolution, and relationality." - Harsha Walia, author of Border and Rule: Global Migration, Capitalism, and the Rise of Racist Nationalism

"How to Abolish Prisons is a vital, necessary text on prison abolition. The authors are both scholars and practitioners in the struggle to abolish prisons, and the lessons they share are grounded in knowledge gleaned from decades of movement work. Herzing and Piché's words highlight the urgency of the task at hand, while advancing crucial lessons for anyone wishing to build more liberatory futures." - Robyn Maynard, co-author of Rehearsals for Living and author of Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present

About the Contributors:

Rachel Herzing is an organizer, activist, and advocate fighting the violence of surveillance, policing and imprisonment for over two decades. Herzing was executive director of Center for Political Education, a resource for political organizations on the left and progressive social movements; co-director of Critical Resistance, a national organization dedicated to abolishing the prison industrial complex; and director of research and training at Creative Interventions a community resource that developed interventions to interpersonal harm that do not rely on policing, imprisonment, or traditional social services. She lives in New York City.

Justin Piché is Associate Professor in the Department of Criminology and Director of the Carceral Studies Research Collective at the University of Ottawa, and co-editor of the Journal of Prisoners on Prisons. He is a recipient of the Aurora Prize from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, which "recognizes an outstanding new scholar who is building a reputation for exciting and original research in the social sciences and humanities." He lives in Ottawa.

Mariame Kaba is an organizer, educator, librarian, and prison industrial complex abolitionist who is active in movements for racial, gender, and transformative justice. She is the author of We Do This 'Til We Free Us and the co-author, with Andrea Richie, of No More Police and, with Kelly Hayes, of Let This Radicalize You.