Prison Abolition, Human Rights, and Penal Reform: From the Local to the Global

September 2628, 2019 Austin, Texas

Prison Abolition, Human Rights, and Penal Reform: From the Local to the Global

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Mass incarceration and overcriminalization in the United States are subject to critique by some on both the right and the left today. Many critics increasingly talk of prison abolition. At the same time, the international human rights movement continues to rely upon criminal punishment as its primary enforcement tool for many violations, even as it criticizes harsh prison conditions, the use of the death penalty, and lack of due process in criminal proceedings. What would it mean for the human rights movement to take seriously calls for prison abolitionism and the economic and racial inequalities that overcriminalization reproduces and exacerbates? And what might critics of the carceral regime in the United States have to learn from work done by international human rights advocates in a variety of countries?

On September 26-28, 2019, the Rapoport Center hosted an interdisciplinary conference that considered the relationships among the human rights, prison abolition, and penal reform movements. Do they share the same goals? Should they collaborate? If so, in what ways?

Ruth Wilson Gilmore delivered the keynote address, “Meanwhile: Making Abolitionist Geographies,” on Thursday, September 26, as the fifth annual Frances Tarlton “Sissy” Farenthold Endowed Lecturer in Peace, Social Justice and Human Rights. Gilmore, a renowned activist and public scholar known for her work on prison abolition, is Professor of Earth & Environmental Sciences and American Studies at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, where she also directs the Center for Place, Culture, and Politics. A poetry reading with Dwayne Betts and Natalie Diaz preceded the lecture.