Campaigning for and campaigning against prisons

Excavating and reaffirming the case for prison abolition

Authored by: Mick Ryan , Joe Sim

Handbook on Prisons

Print publication date:  February  2016
Online publication date:  February  2016

Print ISBN: 9780415745659
eBook ISBN: 9781315797779
Adobe ISBN:


 Download Chapter



Since the formation of Radical Alternatives to Prison (RAP) in 1970, and the publication of Mathiesen’s The Politics of Abolition in 1974, abolitionism has had a significant ideological and material impact on the nature and direction of penal policy. Over the last four decades, abolitionists have consistently opposed the state’s ‘truth’ that prisons were concerned with benevolent reform. Instead, they presented an alternative discourse – namely, that ‘prisons were primarily places of punishment and/or containment … Abolitionists put politics back into penal reform, identifying the prison as just one of a series of disciplinary institutions at the disposal of the State to order and discipline the working classes’ (Ryan and Ward 2013: 9–10). This discourse disrupted the cosy relationship between liberal prison reform groups and the state by dragging a number of these insider groups onto more radical terrain. Furthermore, the abolitionist interventions directly contributed to the abolition of the prison medical service, challenged state-defined ‘truth’ around deaths in custody and generated radical, alternative policies for the families of those who had died in the state’s ‘care’ (Sim 1994a).

Search for more...
Back to top

Use of cookies on this website

We are using cookies to provide statistics that help us give you the best experience of our site. You can find out more in our Privacy Policy. By continuing to use the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.