by Caroline Isaacs, Program Director, AFSC
In 1998, I was a budding anti-prison activist, volunteering for the American Friends Service Committee in Arizona (AFSC-AZ). I was fortunate enough to attend the very first Critical Resistance gathering in Oakland and learn that I was actually part of a movement – a vibrant, fierce and committed group of people who, like me, saw the Prison Industrial Complex as one of the most dangerous threats to our communities. It was an energizing experience that solidified my commitment to this work.
Imagine my dismay, then, at receiving an email from Critical Resistance nearly 20 years later characterizing my work to combat private prisons as un-strategic and even as undermining the larger effort to end mass incarceration.
The critique, primarily leveled at prison divestment campaigns, was articulated by Ruthie Gilmore in her 2015 piece, “The Worrying State of the Anti-Prison Movement,” and was more recently espoused by John Pfaff in his book Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration and How to Achieve Real Reform.
The argument goes something like this: Because for-profit prison companies only hold about 8.5 percent of the nation’s state and federal prisoners, this proves that the profit motive ...