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One Read for Racial Justice Guide: Are Prisons Obsolete: Overview

An overview of the book "Are Prisons Obsolete?" by Angela Y. Davis

What is a One Read?

A “One Read” is an event where everyone in a particular community reads the same book and comes together to discuss it. Think of it like a giant book club. Often in addition to a shared reading, there are a series of events that give context and relate to the book’s theme.

“People can go for days at a time not talking to anyone outside their immediate family. There are precious few opportunities for people of different ethnic background, economic levels or ages to sit down together and discuss ideas that are important to them this project provides that opportunity.” — Nancy Pearl, Director, Washington Center for the Book

“The idea is that the city that opens the same book closes it in greater harmony.” — Mary McGrory, The Washington Post, March 17, 2002

Virtual Events

#DefundthePolice: A Conversation with Local Activists
Featuring SooJin Pate (MPD150), D.A. Bullock (Reclaim the Block), and Jael Kerandi (University of MN, former undergraduate student body president)

Thursday, April 15, 2021
4:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.

Click here to register

More on Mass Incarceration and Criminal Justice Reform

Prison Abolition Syllabus 2.0
Together we lift the sky: An Abolition Study Guide
American Prison
Blood in the Water
For the Children?
From Deportation to Prison
From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime
Inside this Place Not of It
My Brother Moochie
The New Jim Crow
Understanding Mass Incarceration

Get Involved

Abolitionist Law Center
"The Abolitionist Law Center is a public interest law firm inspired by the struggle of political and politicized prisoners, and organized for the purpose of abolishing class and race based mass incarceration in the United States. Abolitionist Law Center litigates on behalf of people whose human rights have been violated in prison, educates the general public about the evils of mass incarceration, and works to develop a mass movement against the American punishment system by building alliances and nurturing solidarity across social divisions." (from their website)

Access Justice Project - Access Living
Access Living's mission is to "ignite disability power and pride, provide critical services, and break down systemic barriers to create a stronger, more inclusive society."

ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice
The ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice is an unprecedented, multiyear effort to reduce the U.S. jail and prison population by 50% and to combat racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

AVID Prison Project
Amplifying voices of inmates with disabilities.

Black and Pink
"Black and Pink was founded in 2005 and is a national prison abolitionist organization dedicated to dismantling the criminal punishment system and the harms caused to LGBTQ+ people and people living with HIV/AIDS who are affected by the system through advocacy, support, and organizing." (from their website)

Black Visions Collective
"Since 2017, Black Visions Collective, has been putting into practice the lessons learned from organizations before us in order to shape a political home for Black people across Minnesota. We aim to center our work in healing and transformative justice principles, intentionally develop our organizations core “DNA” to ensure sustainability, and develop Minnesota’s emerging Black leadership to lead powerful campaigns. By building movements from the ground up with an integrated model, we are creating the conditions for long term success and transformation." (from their website)

Critical Resistance
"Critical Resistance seeks to build an international movement to end the Prison Industrial Complex by challenging the belief that caging and controlling people makes us safe. We believe that basic necessities such as food, shelter, and freedom are what really make our communities secure." (from their mission)

Deeper Than Water
"#DeeperThanWater is an abolitionist coalition working against incarceration and water injustice in MA (and across the world) while demanding the immediate provision of clean, safe, free, healthy water to prisoners affected by contaminated water." (from their Facebook page)

"Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of Deaf Communities (“HEARD”) is the only organization in the nation that supports deaf, hard of hearing, deafblind, deafdisabled, and disabled (“deaf/disabled”) people at every stage of the criminal legal system process, up to and including during and after incarceration. HEARD works to correct and prevent wrongful convictions of deaf/disabled people; end all forms of abuse and incarceration of people with disabilities. HEARD is deeply committed to and invested in increase deaf/disabled peoples’ capacity to end all forms of systemic and structural oppression." (from their website)

Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee
"We are a union for the incarcerated fighting for prison abolition." (from their website)

"INCITE! is a network of radical feminists of color organizing to end state violence and violence in our homes and communities." (from their website)

The Marshall Project
A nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization that seeks to create and sustain a sense of national urgency about the U.S. criminal justice system. 

Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop
Through high-quality creative writing classes, a one-to-one mail mentor program, and related programming, MPWW fosters literary community and a devotion to art inside of Minnesota’s state prisons.

"MPD150 is a participatory, horizontally-organized effort by local organizers, researchers, artists, and activists to shift the discussion around police and policing in Minneapolis from one of procedural reforms to one of meaningful structural change." (from their website)

No Cages Minnesota
"No Cages Minnesota is a coalition of socialist organizers in the Twin Cities dedicated to the decriminalization of immigration." (from their Facebook page)

Prison Policy Initiative
The non-profit, non-partisan Prison Policy Initiative produces cutting edge research to expose the broader harm of mass criminalization, and then sparks advocacy campaigns to create a more just society.

Project Nia
"Project NIA — “nia” meaning “with purpose” in Swahili—is a grassroots organization that works to end the arrest, detention, and incarceration of children and young adults by promoting restorative and transformative justice practices."(from the website)

Reclaim the Block
"Reclaim the Block began in 2018 and organizes Minneapolis community and city council members to move money from the police department into other areas of the city’s budget that truly promote community health and safety. We believe health, safety and resiliency exist without police of any kind. We organize around policies that strengthen community-led safety initiatives and reduce reliance on police departments. We do not believe that increased regulation of or public engagement with the police will lead to safer communities, as community testimony and documented police conduct suggest otherwise."(from the website)

The Sentencing Project
Founded in 1986, The Sentencing Project works for a fair and effective U.S. criminal justice system by promoting reforms in sentencing policy, addressing unjust racial disparities and practices, and advocating for alternatives to incarceration.

Survived + Punished
"Survived & Punished is a prison abolition organization. We believe that prisons, detention centers, all forms of law enforcement, and punitive prosecution are rooted in systems of violence, including racial, anti-trans/queer, sexual, and domestic violence. Our work specifically focuses on criminalized survivors to raise awareness about the integrated relationship between systems of punishment and the pervasiveness of gender violence." (from their vision statement)

TGI Justice
"TGI Justice Project is a group of transgender, gender variant and intersex people —inside and outside of prisons, jails and detention centers-- ​creating a united family in the struggle for survival and freedom." (from their website)

Transform Harm
" is a resource hub about ending violence. It offers an introduction to transformative justice. Created by Mariame Kaba and designed by Lu Design Studio, the site includes selected articles, audio-visual resources, curricula, and more." (from their website)

Women's Prison Book Project
Since 1994, the Women’s Prison Book Project (WPBP) has provided women and transgender persons in prison with free reading materials covering a wide range of topics from law and education (dictionaries, GED, etc.) to fiction, politics, history, and women’s health.  They seek to build connections with those behind the walls, and to educate those of us on the outside about the realities of prison and the justice system.

Essential Viewing

After Innocence
The Farm: Angola, USA
Free Angela and All Political Prisoners
The House I Live In
Serving Life


Beyond Prisons
Beyond Prisons is a podcast on prison abolition that elevates the voices of people directly impacted by the system.

Ear Hustle
The daily realities of life inside prison shared by those living it, and stories from the outside, post-incarceration.

Justice in America
"The Appeal produces original journalism on how policy, politics, and the legal system impact America’s most vulnerable people. We hold officials accountable and expose the human impact of our most routine policy and practices through original reporting, explainers, newsletters, podcasts, and in partnership with NowThis, a daily, live talk show." (from the website)

Prison Radio
"We are an independent multimedia production studio producing content for radio, television, and films for 30 years and distributing throughout the world. We stream our high-audio quality material to media outlets and the general public in order to add the voices of people most impacted by the prison industrial complex." (from the website)

Are Prisons Obsolete?

undefinedIn Are Prisons Obsolete?, Professor Davis seeks to illustrate that the time for the prison is approaching an end. She argues forthrightly for “decarceration”, and argues for the transformation of the society as a whole. (from the publisher)

“In this extraordinary book, Angela Davis challenges us to confront the human rights catastrophe in our jails and prisons. As she so convincingly argues, the contemporary U.S. practice of super-incarceration is closer to new age slavery than to any recognizable system of ‘criminal justice.” —Mike Davis, author of Dead Cities and City of Quartz

“In this brilliant, thoroughly researched book, Angela Davis swings a wrecking ball into the racist and sexist underpinnings of the American prison system. Her arguments are well wrought and restrained, leveling an unflinching critique of how and why more than 2 million Americans are presently behind bars, and the corporations who profit from their suffering.” —Rep. Cynthia McKinney [D-Georgia]

About the Author


Angela Y. Davis is a political activist, scholar, author, and speaker. She is an outspoken advocate for the oppressed and exploited, writing on Black liberation, prison abolition, the intersections of race, gender, and class, and international solidarity with Palestine. She is the author of several books, including Women, Race, and Class and Are Prisons Obsolete? She is the subject of the acclaimed documentary Free Angela and All Political Prisoners and is distinguished professor emerita at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Prison Writing

Iowa Prison Writing Project
Connecting the UI writing community with prison writing communities in Iowa & beyond.

Journal of Prisoners on Prisons
A prisoner written, academically oriented and peer reviewed, non-profit journal, based on the tradition of the penal press.

Life Inside
A weekly series of first-person essays from people who live or work in the criminal justice system.

PEN America’s Prison Writing Program
Prison Writing Award Winners Archive; 1990-1995, 1998-2019

The Penal Press
An open-access archive of publications written and produced by prisoners (primarily focused on Canadian publications).

Prison Legal News
PLN has regular contributing writers, most of whom are currently or formerly incarcerated

The Prison Mirror
The newspaper of the Minnesota Correctional Facility - Stillwater, also known as the Stillwater State Prison; claims to be the longest, continuously published prison newspaper in the country.

Prisons Foundation
Publishes books by inmates that are available on this website for free reading and downloading. 

San Quentin News
Written by the Incarcerated - Advancing Social Justice

Sheltering Justice
Aims to document, archive, and share stories about the real time impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the lives, health, and well-being of our communities and the compounding impact of incarceration.

Other Resources

©2024 St. Catherine University Library, St. Paul, Minnesota, USA

Creative Commons License
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