Resource Guide: Prisons, Policing, and Punishment

Micah Herskind
Jul 14 · 8 min read

Last updated: October 2019

“Remember to imagine and craft the worlds you cannot live without, just as you dismantle the worlds you cannot live within.”

- Ruha Benjamin

Though I’m by no means an expert on issues of prisons, policing, and punishment, many friends have asked for reading recommendations over the past few years. This resource guide offers sources that have been particularly helpful for me as I’ve learned and grown. You can find another truly fantastic resource hub, created by Mariame Kaba, here.

In general, I’ve tried to list shorter pieces, articles, and listening/viewing material. Though the sources are organized thematically, there is no issue in the carceral state that doesn’t intersect with another; therefore, most of the categories are necessarily false divides used for purposes of organization. In places where I’ve listed books, I include a link to the book or to an interview with the author.


· Mass Criminalization: The Basics

· Prison Abolition: What is it?

· Police Abolition: What is it?

· Origin Stories

· Criminalizing Blackness

· Gender Justice and Anti-Carceral Feminism

· Not Just The “Nonviolent Drug Offender”: The Perils of Reform

· The Perils of “Tech Fixes”

· Are Private Prisons and Prison Labor the Problem?

· Intersections: Climate (In)Justice and Prisons

· Twitter Accounts to Follow


Prison Policy Initiative, “Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2019.”

Chandra Bozelko, “A Primer on Mass Incarceration,” 2018.

The Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions, An Open Letter to Our Friends on the Question of Language.”


Shorter Pieces:

Dan Berger, Mariame Kaba, and David Stein, “What Abolitionists Do,” 2017.

Mariame Kaba and Kelly Hayes, A Jailbreak of the Imagination: Seeing Prisons for What They Are and Demanding Transformation,” 2018.

Rachel Kushner, “Is Prison Necessary? Ruth Wilson Gilmore Might Change Your Mind,” 2019.

Elisabeth Epps,Amber Guyger Should Not Go to Prison,” 2019.

No New Jails NYC, “Close Rikers Now, We Keep Us Safe: A New Yorker’s Guide to Building Community Care and Safety by Closing Rikers with No New Jails,” 2019.

Benji Hart,You Are Already an Abolitionist,” 2017.

Joshua Dubler and Vincent Lloyd,Think Prison Abolition in America is Impossible? It Once Felt Inevitable,” 2018.

Ruth Wilson Gilmore and James Kilgore, The Case for Abolition,” 2019.

Mariame Kaba and John Duda, Toward the Horizon of Abolition: A Conversation with Mariame Kaba,” 2017.

John Washington,What is Prison Abolition?”, 2018.

Eli Day, A World Without Prisons,” 2019.

Listening and Viewing

Reina Gossett and Dean Spade, YouTube Abolition Series, 2014:

Kim Wilson and Brian Sonenstein, “Beyond Prisons” podcast series.

Chris Hayes, “Thinking About How to Abolish Prisons with Mariame Kaba,” 2019

Longer Pieces and Books:

Angela Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete?, 2003.

The CR10 Publications Collective, Abolition NOW! Ten Years of Strategy and Struggle Against the Prison Industrial Complex.

Julia Sudbury, “Reform or Abolition? Using Popular Mobilizations to Dismantle the ‘Prison-Industrial Complex,’” 2016.

Allegra McLeod, “Prison Abolition and Grounded Justice,” 2015.

Patrisse Cullors, Abolition and Reparations: Histories of Resistance, Transformative Justice, and Accountability,” 2019.

Allegra McLeod, Envisioning Abolition Democracy,” 2019.

For a more thorough and academic list of resources on prison abolition, see this incredible resource.


Shorter Pieces:

Derecka Purnell, The Police Can’t Solve the Problem. They Are the Problem,” 2019.

Alex Vitale, “The Police Are Not Here to Protect You,” 2017.

Maya Dukmasova, Abolish the Police? Organizers Say It’s Less Crazy Than It Sounds,” 2016.

Mariame Kaba, “Police Reforms You Should Always Oppose,” 2014.

José Martin, “Policing is a Dirty Job, But Nobody’s Gotta Do It: 6 Ideas for a Cop-Free World,” 2014.

Mychal Denzel Smith, “Abolish the Police. Instead, Let’s Have Full Social, Economic, and Political Equality,” 2015.

Rose City CopWatch, “Alternatives to Police,” 2008.

Critical Resistance, Reformist Reforms vs. Abolitionist Steps in Policing.”

Sarah-Ji and Monica Trinidad, “Community Compilation on Police Abolition,” 2016.

Longer Pieces and Books:

Alex Vitale, The End of Policing, 2018. [interview with author linked]

Meghan G. McDowell and Luis A. Fernandez, “Disband, Disempower, and Disarm: Amplifying the Theory and Practice of Police Abolition,” 2018.

Amna Akbar,Toward a Radical Imagination of the Law,” 2017.


The number of ‘origin stories’ for mass incarceration has exploded in recent years. These are mostly books. Here are some of the main ones:

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, 2010.

Naomi Murakawa, The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison America, 2014. [interview with author linked]

Elizabeth Hinton, From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America, 2016. [interview with author linked]

Khalil Gibran Muhammad, The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America, 2010. [interview with author linked]

Angela Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete?, 2003.

Jonathon Simon, Governing Through Crime: How the War on Crime Transformed American Democracy and Created a Culture of Fear, 2006. [review of book linked]

Heather Ann Thompson, “Why Mass Incarceration Matters: Rethinking Crisis, Decline, and Transformation in Postwar American History,” 2010.

James Forman, Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America, 2017, [interview with author linked]

Julilly Kohler-Hausman, Getting Tough: Welfare and Imprisonment in 1970s America, 2018. [interview with author linked]

John Pfaff, Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration and How to Achieve Real Reform, 2017. [review of book linked]

Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, 1995.


Shorter Pieces

Angela Davis, “From the Prison of Slavery to the Slavery of Prison: Frederick Douglass and the Convict Lease System,” 1998.

Amna Akbar, Policing Black Radicalism,” 2016.

P.R. Lockhart, “Living While Black and the Criminalization of Blackness,” 2018.

Viewing and Listening

Documentary: Slavery By Another Name, 2012.

Khalil Gibran Muhammad, talk on The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America.

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation, 2016.

Dara Lind, Liz Scheltens, and Gina Barton, The School-to-Prison Pipeline, Explained,” 2016.

Longer Pieces

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, 2010.

Naomi Murakawa, The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison America, 2014. [interview with author linked]

Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California [interview with author linked]

Monique Morris, Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools, 2015. [interview with author linked]


Shorter Pieces

Victoria Law, “Against Carceral Feminism,” 2014.

Mariame Kaba, “Transformative Justice,” 2012.

Stefanie Mundhenk Harrelson, I Was Sexually Assaulted. And I Believe Incarcerating Rapists Doesn’t Help Victims Like Me,” 2019.

Kelly Hayes and Mariame Kaba, “The Sentencing of Larry Nassar Was Not ‘Transformative Justice.’ Here’s Why,” 2018.

Beth Richie, “How Anti-Violence Activism Taught me to Become a Prison Abolitionist,” 2014.

Victoria Law, How Can We Reconcile Prison Abolition with #MeToo?” 2018.

Ruth Morris, “Why Transformative Justice?”, 1999.

Listening and Viewing

Kiyomi Fujikawa, Shannon Perez-Darby, and Mariame Kaba, “Building Accountable Communities,” Four-Part Video Series.

Longer Pieces

Andrea Ritchie, Invisible Justice: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color, 2017. [interview with author linked]

Beth Richie, Arrested Justice: Black Women, Violence, and America’s Prison Nation, 2012. [interview with author linked]

Ann Russo, Feminist Accountability, Disrupting Violence and Transforming Power, 2018. [overview of book linked]

Mimi Kim, “From Carceral Feminism to Transformative Justice: Women-Of-Color Feminism and Alternatives to Incarceration,” 2018.

Donna Hylton, A Little Piece of Light: A Memoir of Hope, Prison, and a Life Unbound, 2018. [interview with author linked]


Shorter Pieces

Ruth Wilson Gilmore, “The Worrying State of the Anti-Prison Movement,” 2015.

Marie Gottschalk, “Did You Really Think Trump Was Going to Help End the Carceral State?” 2019.

Marie Gottschalk, “The Folly of Neoliberal Prison Reform,” 2015.

Naomi Murakawa, How Liberals Legitimize Broken Windows” in Camp and Heatherton, Policing the Planet, 2016. [pgs. 186–194 of linked PDF]

Vesla Weaver, The Untold Story of Mass Incarceration,” 2017.

Marie Gottschalk, “It’s Not Just the Drug War,” 2015.

Longer Pieces and Books

Lena Carla Palacios, “Challenging Convictions: Indigenous and Black Race-Radical Feminists Theorizing the Carceral State and Abolitionist Praxis in the United States and Canada,” 2016.

Christopher Seeds, Bifurcation Nation: American Penal Policy in Late Mass Incarceration,” 2017.

Ruth Wilson Gilmore, “Abolition Geography and the Problem of Innocence,” 2017.

James Forman Jr., Racial Critiques of Mass Incarceration: Beyond the New Jim Crow,” 2012.

Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Race, Capitalist Crisis, and Abolitionist Organizing,” 2010.

Micah Herskind, Decoding Decarceration: Race, Risk, and Reform in New Jersey, 1986–2017.[yeah, I put myself on here]

Marie Gottschalk, The Prison and the Gallows: The Politics of Mass Incarceration in America, 2006 [especially chapters 5–7]


Shorter Pieces

Michelle Alexander, “The Newest Jim Crow,” 2018.

James Kilgore, “Repackaging Mass Incarceration,” 2014.

Longer Pieces and Books

Ruha Benjamin, Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code, 2019. [brief synopsis of book linked]

Dorothy Roberts, “Digitizing the Carceral State,” 2019.


Shorter Pieces

Ruth Wilson Gilmore and James Kilgore, Some Reflections on Prison Labor,” 2019.

Craig Gilmore, Twitter thread on prison privatization, 2018.

Craig Gilmore, “On the Business of Incarceration,” 2019.

Brian Sonenstein, Elizabeth Warren’s Flawed but Well-Intentioned Proposal for Banning Private Prisons,” 2019.

Longer Pieces and Books

Lauren-Brooke Eisen, Inside Private Prisons, 2017 [I disagree with most of the book’s conclusions, but lots of valuable information in it. Interview with author linked]


Prison Ecology Project, Background on Mass Incarceration and the Environment

Truthout, article series, “America’s Toxic Prisons

Candice Bernd, Maureen Nandini Mitra, and Zoe Loftus-Farren,The Environmental Injustices of Mass Incarceration,” 2017.

Panagioti Tsolkas, “How the Fight Against Toxic Prisons Could Shape the Future of Environmentalism,” 2016.

Twitter Accounts to Follow

For each source there is on this document, there are one hundred missing — people have written a lot about the carceral state! Further, there are countless subjects that are not on this resource guide: the intersection of LGBTQ identities and the carceral state, the criminalization of indigenous communities, the interplay between mental health and criminalization, the U.S. export of mass punishment, other forms of captivity along our own border as well as abroad, the significance of the Black Power movement and prison organizing within the history of mass incarceration, and the other myriad ways in which the punishment system intersects with housing, education, access to medical care, poverty, race, gender, immigration status, Islamophobia, and more. I hope to keep reading and adding in the coming months.

Image from

Micah Herskind

Written by

to-be lawyer. prison abolitionist. punishment, justice, gender, race, faith, & body politics. tweeting @micahherskind

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade