Are Prisons Obsolete?

With her characteristic brilliance, grace and radical audacity, Angela Yvonne Davis has put the case for the latest abolition movement in American life: the abolition of the prison. As she notes, American life is replete with abolition movements, and when they were engaged in these struggles, their chances of success seemed almost unthinkable. For generations of Americans, the abolition of slavery was sheerest illusion. Similarly, the entrenched system of racial segregation seemed to last forever, and generations lived in the midst of the practice, with few predicting its passage from custom. The brutal, exploitative (dare one say lucrative?) convict-lease system that succeeded formal slavery reaped millions to southern jurisdictions (and untold miseries for tens of thousands of men, and women). Few predicted its passing from the American penal landscape. Davis expertly argues how social movements transformed these social, political and cultural institutions, and made such practices untenable.


Angela Davis is Professor Emerita at the History of Consciousness Department, University of California, Santa Cruz. Over the last thirty years, she has been active in numerous organizations challenging prison-related repression. Her advocacy on behalf of political prisoners led to three capital charges, sixteen months in jail awaiting trial, and a highly publicized campaign then acquittal in 1972. She is the author of seven books, including the classic Women, Race & Class (also available from Navayana). On 5 April 2011, Prof Davis delivered the Second Annual Navayana Lecture on “The Contemporary Quests for Social Justice”.






‘Angela Davis swings a wrecking ball into the racist and sexist underpinnings of the American prison system.’Cynthia McKinney, former Congresswoman, US.