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Abolition: A New Paradigm for Reform

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The catastrophic failure of the prison system in the United States has prompted a shift in criminal punishment system rhetoric and policy toward reform. Numerous programs and initiatives facilitate reentry for the hundreds of thousands of individuals coming out of prison every year, but these and other reforms remain problematic. They do little to improve the social and material conditions of those attempting to reintegrate. By failing to question the social, historical, political, and economic conditions of criminal system problems, they reproduce the oppressive social conditions that they are intended to address. This dissertation diagnoses several major issues with conventional reform efforts in rehabilitation and reentry scholarship and praxis, and argues that what is needed is not further attempts to improve these reforms, but to approach these problems through an abolitionist lens. An abolitionist frame, I suggest, is particularly useful in articulating suggestions for change. I apply an abolitionist analysis to an examination of reentry, and through a comparative case study of traditional reentry approaches and abolitionist ones, I illustrate how abolitionism helps to diagnose problematic reentry reforms and how an abolitionist approach to reentry can address these issues in a more effective, profound, and enduring way. Then, I engage thoroughly with abolitionism, taking stock of its historical legacies, exploring and engaging with major debates, critiques, tensions, and challenges in abolitionist thought, to construct an abolitionist vision, and articulate concrete strategies for approaching problems of crime, inequality, and injustice. This vision provides an understanding of what it means to approach such problems from an abolitionist point of view beyond reentry, and a guiding logic for evaluating whether reforms are likely to reproduce major social issues, or contribute to effective and enduring solutions that challenge the carceral paradigm, and bring about conditions of equity, justice, and repair, and a future without need of carceral systems.

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This item is under embargo until June 4, 2024.