Value of creating a model

As prison abolitionists, it is important that we examine whether our actions move us toward our goals. A vision or continuing plan of action helps us to assess our day-to-day work, enabling us to see how our small piece of work fits into the whole. Without a long range plan, it is possible to waste a great deal of energy because expectations are unrealistic or because we lack the focus necessary to move us nearer our goals. The result can be disillusionment, frustration, and a sense of defeat.

For instance, many good court watching programs produce interesting data, but eventually dribble out because there seems to be no way to counteract society's racism and classism in the criminal selection process. However, if court watching programs are placed in an abolition context, the elimination of bail and preventive detention are not seen as ends in themselves. Intermediate strategies might include the creation of release on recognizance (ROR) programs, voluntary restitution programs, and local support groups to move releasees into assistance programs in the community. These programs can be envisioned as part of a wider campaign to continually move toward the abolition of bail, and ultimately, of imprisonment itself.

The prospect of changing a system as massive, complex and powerful as the prison system could overwhelm and paralyze us if we were unable to design our work into a series of manageable parts. Visualizing our long range goal of prison abolition as a chain of shorter campaigns around specific issues provides us with the "handles" we need on the overall problem.

We are not proposing a single model for prison change. We encourage developing many models, based on the reality of our life situations. For instance, abolition models structured by prisoners might differ from models structured by prisoner allies outside the walls. But the need for communication, agreement on goals, and support for each others' campaigns is crucial to developing a serious abolition movement.

While a vision for dismantling prisons will help to clarify our collective strategies, we cannot expect that a proposed model will always be carried out in an orderly sequence. Various forces and dynamics undoubtedly will require some flexibility in our strategies. A good model can be remodeled and adapted to meet unforeseen opportunities for change.

We have structured an attrition model as one example of a long range process for abolition. "Attrition," which means the rubbing away or wearing down by friction, reflects the persistent and continuing strategy necessary to diminish the function and power of prisons in our society.

To clarify our terms, the reforms we recommend are "abolishing-type" reforms: those that do not add improvement to or legitimize the prevailing system. We also call for partial abolitions of the system: abolishing certain criminal laws, abolishing bail and pretrial detention and abolishing indeterminate sentences and parole.

In this chapter we will briefly lay out the attrition model and identify its components. We can test the model's consistency with abolitionist goals by asking the following questions:

The following will provide information, tools and resources to enable us to engage in the suggested campaigns proposed here.

The attrition model


Declare a moratorium on all new jail and prison construction. Say stop to all construction of cages. Create space and the time to develop alternate planning processes, programs, policies and philosophies.


Get as many prisoners out of their cages as possible. Examine all methods of depopulating the prisons and jails. Create a prisoner release timeline: at least 80 percent immediately; 15 percent gradually; the remaining 5 percent within ten years. Here are some of the ways to decarcerate:


Stop putting people in prison. Examine all alternatives to caging. Here are some strategies for excarceration:

Restraint of "the few"

For the very small percentage of lawbreakers who need to be limited in movement for some periods of time in their lives, a monitoring and review procedure should be established with the goal of working out the least restrictive and most humane option for the shortest period of time.

Building the caring community

For prison abolition to become a reality, alternatives must exist. Prisoners must be empowered to take responsibility for their own lives. Prisoners need support and allies. Above all they need services in their communities-health, educational, vocational, residential, counselling and legal services-which should be available not only for prisoners but for all people.

Here are some ways to build the caring community: