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Brown University students want to abolish prisons and replace them with 'systems of accountability' that promote 'healing'


'The end goal is to not have prisons as any form of incarceration'

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

A student group at Brown University is advocating for the abolition of the U.S. prison system, claiming it is inherently racist and unjust.

The group, called RailRoad, held a teach-in titled, "Prison Abolition 101," earlier this month in order to inform fellow students and the public about the dangers of the prison-industrial complex and propose ways to move toward its ultimate destruction.

"The end goal is to not have prisons as any form of incarceration," said RailRoad member Grace Austin, according to a report about the event from the Brown Daily Herald. "Punishment at any stage doesn't guarantee any kind of growth."

The group's Facebook page outlines its stated mission as the creation of "a world where the Prison Industrial Complex in all of its forms has been destroyed and built in its place are systems of accountability that allow for healing and growth."

Another presenter, Aida Sherif, argued that the very roots of the U.S. criminal justice system are based on prejudice toward impoverished people and minorities.

"Prisons were founded in the ideas of punishing the poor, punishing people of color," Sherif said. "I don't see it as an institution that can ever fully break away from those foundations."

OK, so prisons are abolished ... then what?

According to the Brown Daily Herald report, RailRoad members did not outline explicit plans or a specific timeline for accomplishing prison abolition at the teach-in.

Instead, the students encouraged the other attendees to not assume that prisons are necessary.

"Our society is constructed in a way that would have us believe prisons are absolutely necessary," Sherif said at the event. "People perceive it as crazy, unreasonable, dangerous, too radical. Abolition is not anarchy."

The students also did not specify what the "systems of accountability" that would replace prisons would look like.

Rather, they encouraged ceasing construction of new prisons and then experimenting with alternative institutions for justice as some first steps toward abolition.

RailRoad's views on the U.S. prison system are much aligned with the views of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). The group recently posted a tweet of hers on their Facebook page.

In addition to its advocacy for prison abolition, RailRoad is also leading a campaign to encourage the university to adopt "fair chance" hiring practices that disregard conviction history in hiring decisions.

H/T Campus Reform.

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