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The COVID-19 pandemic has given new urgency to the need to abolish prisons, refugee camps, migrant detention centers and the inhuman capitalist carceral system. Prisoner and refugee populations are facing an imminent death sentence from the fast spread of the virus in the crowded and unsanitary conditions of prisons, camps and detention centers worldwide. Meanwhile, various states’ continued reliance on prison labor, including the production of hygiene and medical equipment, has left inmates vulnerable to infection due to the impossibility of social distancing in production and has also exacerbated longstanding conditions of wage theft and chronic overwork.
There have been protests and hunger strikes inside detention centers and prisons in the U.S., Iran, Italy, Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico, Lebanon, France, Canada, India, Egypt and elsewhere, as well as prison breaks in Iran and Brazil. Kurdish political prisoners in Turkey have been denied early release and Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons have been completely cut off from the outside world and denied the right to use the prisons’ public phones. Prison abolitionist and migrant solidarity groups are calling for a comprehensive plan to release people from jails, prisons, and detention centers and have organized protest car caravans outside some detention centers.
This pandemic compels us to create a global prison abolitionist movement that comprehends and confronts the connections between prisons, refugee camps, detention centers, surveillance infrastructures, and racism, heteropatriarchy, sexism, imperialism and the inhumanity of the global capitalist system. It demands that prison abolitionists offer alternatives to all forms of state violence, exploitation and domination.
This coalition actively draws connections between national and international struggles and between political prisoners and social prisoners, who are mostly working-class victims of poverty, racism, marginalization and neglect. Our position regarding prison abolition is informed by the need for an alternative to capitalism because capitalism is carceral and authoritarian whether in its neoliberal or statist forms.
We are living through a critical moment in history. Capitalist elites are terrified of a possible collapse of a system that only cares about profit and accumulation of capital. For them, the lives of precarious workers, women, people of color, ethnic or religious minorities, prisoners, and refugees are disposable. We are seeing the collapse of entire economic networks even as poor people are being sent to their death to uphold the ethos of “business-as-usual.”. Incarcerated individuals are one of the groups that bear the brunt of state violence and capitalist exploitation. Thus, a movement committed to undoing the global structures of power that have normalized carceral logics of governing must center the perspectives of incarcerated people.
Up to now, most of the scholarship and academic discourses around prisons have revolved around the U.S. model, and even there, the prison system as it relates to migrants has received less attention. In reality, every country has its own history and specificities. Prisons are different from one country to another and at times, even from one region to another within the same country. At the same time the current pandemic shows that the lives of prisoners are disposable everywhere. The pain and suffering of prisoners is a violation of human rights and is a global issue. Prisoners understand that state violence is a universal language.
Unfortunately, there is a tendency many within the global left to ignore the plight of prisoners in some countries and defend various authoritarian rulers under the guise of opposing U.S. imperialism. This selective anti-imperialism refuses to defend prisoners in countries such as Syria, Iran, Russia, China, Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua even if they oppose all imperialist powers and religious fundamentalism.
The COVID-19 pandemic and its genocidal consequences compel prison abolitionists to come together to promote international solidarity and make a difference on a global scale. As a united front of organizations and individuals, we aim to work toward the following goals:
1. Advocate the immediate release of prisoners based on restorative justice and transformative justice practices.
2. Advocate safe housing, healthcare, necessities and documentation for all, including migrants and refugees.
3. Create platforms to publicize the cases of political and social prisoners and the forcibly disappeared, many of whom have been tortured by repressive states and militias.
4. Oppose execution and torture including police brutality/murder.
5. Oppose the exploitation of prisoners as laborers.
6. Promote debate on an alternative society free of alienated labor and the logic of capital, where decisions can be based on thoughtful deliberation, centered on the well-being of humanity and nature and community-based within an international network of cooperation.
7. Imagine and work towards a world without prisons, detention centers, camps, asylums, borders and other forms of captivity.
We invite organizations and individuals who agree with these goals to join this effort.