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TRNN’s Eddie Conway continues his discussion with Maya Schenwar, author of ‘Locked Down and Locked Out’, about alternatives to mass incarceration

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EDDIE CONWAY, FMR. BLACK PANTHER, BALTIMORE CHAPTER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Eddie Conway, coming to you from Baltimore. And this is the second part of our segment.

I want to welcome back Maya, who is the author of Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn’t Work and How We Can Do Better.

Maya, in the last segment we were talking about the problems, and now we’re going to talk about the solutions. Yeah. And one of the things, from my experience in decades of being in prison, one of the motivating factors, I find, that impacts family members outside is that when they actually come into the prison system, they’re treated like criminals, that the encounters that they have in terms of searching or /ˈfrɪstɪŋ/ or just suspicion or the way in which they’re talked to is, from at least the guards, apparently dehumanizing to them, and this just kind of, like, aggravates them even more. I mean, the pain of having someone in that prison is one thing, and then being treated like a potential criminal yourself is something else. So it does create of lot of activism in terms of people leaving and trying to go out and address the issue.

You know, one of the things you said, though, in your books is the need for decarceration and abolishment, prison abolition. Can you kind of explain what that means?

MAYA SCHENWAR, AUTHOR, LOCKED DOWN, LOCKED OUT: Yeah. So there are a few components. One, like you said, is decarceration. And that just means shrinking the system. And the system has so many tentacles that that cannot mean just approaching it from one angle. So, like, a lot of people think, oh, well, the answer is just sentencing reform. Change sentencing so that it’s more kind of smart. People talk about smarter sentencing, and that’ll be that. Well, no, we have to address sentencing, but we also have to look at closing prisons, finding ways to reduce prison populations, reducing prison budgets, because when you reduce the budget, you necessarily have to shrink the system. Also, looking at failed reform, that’s really important. There are 750,000 people in county jails, and many of them are there because they can’t pay their way out. So that’s a whole system that we have to look at. So decarceration really encompasses [inaud.]

I’m sorry. I’m not hearing you.

SCHENWAR: –prison. Yeah. Oh. Sorry. [inaud.] question.

No. Some of it extends beyond the idea of prison. So, like, looking at policing, some of the anti-policing efforts that are happening right now I think fall right into that category of decarceration, because police are an extension of the carceral state, and they’re kind of the entryway to the system. And particularly police are the ones actively in communities targeting black and brown people and bringing them into the system.

So I think that talking about fighting prisons needs to be discussed with a very, very wide lens, including anti-policing efforts, including also efforts against programs that sounds good, sound like prison alternatives, but aren’t really. So, for example, one of the things I’ve written about is locked down drug treatment centers and the use of those as kind of a way to move away from prison without really moving away from prison. So those are also things that we have to stand against. We have to stand against anything that performs prison, even outside of the prison walls itself.

CONWAY: But are you saying that all of those particular policies will lead to the abolition of prisons? Or are you saying that the abolition of prisons is a separate kind of thing?

SCHENWAR: Well, I think that decarceration is a part of abolition. So part of it is just shrinking the system, doing decarceration. But also we have to be creating other institutions for dealing with harm and violence that aren’t prison. So, as we’re shrinking down the system, we have to be growing other systems. We have to be growing programs in our communities, projects for dealing with violence and strengthening our connections with people that do not use any of that carceral logic to deal with problems. And that’s a whole wide range of things. I mentioned restorative justice projects that Barbara Fair is working on. There are transformative justice projects happening In communities where people are looking to really kind of just get outside the state entirely and see solutions to particular problems coming from victims, coming from family members, people talking about things as, like, specific instances, as opposed to, like, blanket problems that can be dealt with by using blanket solutions like prison.

One of the things I always bring up is that prison is this blanket kind of go-to policy that’s used to deal with everything from drug possession to murder and everything in between. And, also, the things that are defined as crimes are really random. Why is drug possession defined as a crime but possession of nuclear weapons is not defined as a crime? So part of prison abolition is really thinking about what are we defining as a problem that needs intervention, and then from there thinking about what kinds of intervention can we do together just as people that will help move us forward and prevent violence in the future.

CONWAY: Okay. Well, thanks for sharing with us, and thank you for joining us today.

SCHENWAR: Thank you so much, Eddie. It’s really great to speak with you.


And thank you for joining The Real News.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Maya Schenwar is Truthout's Editor-in-Chief. Her book, Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn't Work and How We Can Do Better, was released by Berrett-Koehler Publishers in November. Follow her on Twitter: @mayaschenwar.

Previously, she was a senior editor and reporter at Truthout, writing on US defense policy, the criminal justice system, campaign politics, and immigration reform. Prior to her work at Truthout, Maya was contributing editor at Punk Planet magazine. She has also written for the Guardian, In These Times, Ms. Magazine, AlterNet, Z Magazine, Bitch Magazine, Common Dreams, the New Jersey Star-Ledger and others. She also served as a publicity coordinator for Voices for Creative Nonviolence. Maya is on the Board of Advisors at Waging Nonviolence.