toward abolition: Dismantling the carceral state


Conference 2017

On April 14-15, 2017, SPEAR is excited to host its 4th annual conference Toward Abolition: Dismantling the Carceral State. 

This spring, our conference aims to explore prison abolition, decarceration, and alternatives to incarceration such as restorative justice. In particular, we want to examine in close detail the array of ways in which prison abolition is imagined and how the notion of abolition interacts with and is driven by particular identities. We will be collaborating with various student groups at Princeton to bring a diverse array of speakers and panelists to campus, creating a space at Princeton for conference participants to create and share in a vision of decarceration and decriminalization.


Friday, April 14th:

4:30pm - Opening Plenary by Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Industrialized Punishment: Charting the Current Crisis in Racial Capitalism, in Dodds Auditorium (Robertson Hall)

6:30pm - Dinner in Campus Club

8:00 pm - Performance of The Bullpen by Joe Assadourian in McCormick Hall 101

Saturday, April 15th:

8:30am - Breakfast in Carl A. Fields Center (CAF)

9:00am - Opening Plenary by Judah Schept, Against Punishment: Seeing and Unseeing the Prison in Carceral America

10:15am - Panel 1,  Real Women, Real Voices

11:45am - Workshop 1, Alternatives to Incarceration for Youth and Ending the School-Prison Pipeline with Harlem Youth Court, Olivia Dana & Jasmine Harden, Friends of Island Academy, Jamila Hammami, and the Petey Greene Program

12:45pm - Lunch in CAF

1:45pm - Panel 2, Reimagining Justice with Andre Ward (Common Justice), Amanda Berman (Red Hook), and H.O.L.L.A!

3:15pm - Workshop 2, Strategies for Prison Abolition with H.O.L.L.A!, Mariame Kaba, Kaela Economos, and the Mass Studio Lab

4:30pm - Panel 3, Taking CloseRikers as a Case Study with Five Mualimm-ak and Kathy Morse

6:00pm - Closing Plenary by Alec Karakatsanis, Fighting the Normalization of Human Caging

7:00pm - Dinner in CAF


Keynote: Industrialized Punishment: Charting the Current Crisis in Racial Capitalism

Ruth Wilson Gilmore is Professor of Earth & Environmental Sciences, and American Studies, and Director of the Center for Place, Culture, and Politics, at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Among her many publications is the prize-winning Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California. She writes on racial capitalism, organized violence, organized abandonment, changing state structure, revolutionary and other oppositional formations, the African diaspora, infrastructure, and extraction. Gilmore has lectured in Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America. She is a past president of the American Studies Association, and co-founder of many grassroots organizations including the California Prison Moratorium Project, Critical Resistance, and the Central California Environmental Justice Network. Gilmore has won many awards– including the Angela Y. Davis Award for Public Scholarship (ASA), the Harold Rose Award for Anti-Racist Scholarship (AAG), and the inaugural Eugene Grant Distinguished Scholar in Social Justice Prize from Purchase College, State University of New York.

Opening Plenary: Seeing and Unseeing the Prison in Carceral America

Judah Schept is an Associate Professor in the School of Justice Studies at Eastern Kentucky University. He holds a Ph.D. in Criminal Justice from Indiana University and a BA in Sociology from Vassar College. Judah’s work examines the political economy, historical geography, and cultural politics of the prison industrial complex. He is the author of Progressive Punishment: Job Loss, Jail Growth, and the Neoliberal Logic of Carceral Expansion (New York University Press, 2015). In addition, Judah’s writing can be found in journals such as Radical Criminology, Theoretical Criminology, Punishment and Society, Social Justice, and Crime, Media, Culture, as well as in blogs and opinion pieces for academic and activist websites. Judah is currently working on a book manuscript that examines the historical, social and spatial dimensions of the extractive and prison economies in Central Appalachia. At EKU, Judah is the coordinator for the undergraduate program in Social Justice Studies and teaches courses on punishment and society, social movements, and qualitative research methods. Judah’s research and teaching is informed by his many years as an activist and organizer in New York, California, Indiana and Kentucky fighting prison and jail growth, for alternatives to imprisonment, and for justice in Palestine.

Panel 1: Real Women Real Voices

Andrea James is the Founder and Executive Director of the National Council For Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, founder of Families for Justice as Healing, author of Upper Bunkies Unite: And Other Thoughts On the Politics of Mass Incarceration, a 2015 Soros Justice Fellow, and recipient of the 2016 RFK Human Rights award. Andrea worked within the criminal justice system for more than 25 years, from her days as a youth worker, to her work as a criminal defense attorney. In 2009 she was sentenced to serve a 24-month federal prison sentence. After a lifetime of work seeking justice on behalf of disenfranchised people, she was stunned at what she encountered upon entering the federal prison system as an incarcerated person. Andrea uses her experience to raise awareness of the effect of incarceration of women on themselves, their children and communities, and to raise awareness of the need to shift from a criminal legal system to a system focused on human justice.

Susan Rosenberg is a human rights and prisoners rights advocate, adjunct lecturer, communications consultant, award-winning writer, public speaker and a formerly incarcerated person.  Her memoir, An American Radical, details her 16 years in federal prison as well as her conclusions about her prison experience and her past. She was released from prison in 2001 through executive clemency by then President Bill Clinton. Upon her release she worked at American Jewish World Service for 12 years beginning as a writer then becoming the director of communications. Post-AJWS Susan has worked extensively in the nonprofit communications field with a focus on human rights and international development. She is an adjunct lecturer at Hunter College, in Women and Gender studies. She is a member of the prison writing committee of PEN America. She is in the board of directors of IDEX, an international development organization. Susan is a founding member of the National Council on Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, and currently works with the Council on strategic planning and development.

Lois Ahrens has been an activist and organizer for social justice for more than 50 years. She is the founding director of the Real Cost of Prisons Project, a national organization based in Northampton, MA. She is also a founding member of The National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls. In 2000, Lois began the Real Cost of Prisons Project which brings together activists, artists, justice policy researchers and people directly experiencing the impacts of mass incarceration to organize to end the carceral state. Among the accomplishments of the Real Cost of Prisons Project are three comic books:  Prison Town-Paying the Price, Prisoners of A Hard Life-Women and Their Children and Prisoners of the War on Drugs. More than 135,000 free comic books have been sent to people who are incarcerated, their families, and organizers throughout the country. The comic books are anthologized in The Real Cost of Prisons Comix(PM Press). Lois believes we can only authentically and fundamentally change the costly and damaging systems of mass incarceration and mass criminalization through being guided by the insight and leadership of families of incarcerated people and through knowing and working with formerly incarcerated and incarcerated people. Her correspondence and visits with people who are incarcerated has led her to focus on extremely long sentences and the punitive and damaging conditions of confinement faced by all people who are incarcerated in the U.S. In Massachusetts, her work includes working to stop new jail building, organizing to end money bail and creating alternatives to incarceration.

Topeka K. Sam is the National Organizer of the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women (The Council).  She is also the founder of The Ladies of Hope Ministries – The LOHM.  She serves on the board of directors for Grassroots Leadership. She is a 2015 Beyond the Bars Fellow and a 2016 Justice-In-Education Scholar at Columbia University. Ms. Sam, first envisioned “Real Women Real Voices-Where People Meet the Policy” symposiums while she was incarcerated in Federal prison. The Symposiums have become central to Council programming bringing the voices and ideas of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women to law students, faculty and the public.  Immediately upon release, she began putting her ideas in action. In 2016, Real Women Real Voices symposiums were co-sponsored by Columbia Law School, American University Washington College of Law, Vanderbilt University Divinity School, Loyola University New Orleans College of Law, Yale Law School, University of Washington School of Law, NYU Law School, The New School and Tulane University.

In 2016, Ms. Sam organized Council meetings in Los Angeles, Atlantic City, Philadelphia, Washington, Nashville, New Orleans, Chicago, New Haven, New York City, and Seattle. She led the first ever Council meetings inside a prison at Washington Correctional Center for Women - Women’s Village and at the Federal Halfway House in Seattle.  In addition to her organizing, Ms. Sam has spoken on numerous panels throughout the United States including Symposium for Systematic Change and Criminal Justice Reform sponsored by Catholic Charities, New Orleans, the 50th Anniversary of the Black Panthers on Mass Incarceration and Reentry in New York, and the Black World Conference and many others. She has received the “Women’s Championship” Award 2016 from The Go Get It Women’s Empowerment Conference, “Phenomenal Woman” award from Masjidus Sabur, and the “Make it Happen” Community Service Award from The Kids League 2016.  In September 2016, she led meetings and presentations to 100 prison officers and officials at the Prisons Training College in Arima, Trinidad where she also met with incarcerated women at the country’s only prison for women. This is an on-going consultation. All has been accomplished since her release from prison in May 2015.


Workshops 1: Alternatives to Incarceration for Youth and Ending the School to Prison Pipeline

Salam Mustafa served with AmeriCorps as the youth development associate for the Harlem Youth Court. Her year of service included creating community benefit projects for youth such as Walk MS, intergenerational work between seniors and young people, and volunteering at churches to feed those in need. She received a B.A. from California State University, San Marcos, where she was active in various social justice groups. The Harlem Youth Court trains teenagers to serve as jurors, judges and advocates, handling real-life cases involving their peers. The goal of the Harlem Youth Court is to use positive peer pressure to ensure that young people who have committed minor offenses restore harm done to the community and receive the help they need to avoid further involvement in the justice system.

Olivia Dana is the Project Director of the Staten Island Youth Justice Center, a unique organization dedicated to testing new approaches to criminal and juvenile justice problems in Staten Island, New York. Ms. Dana oversees programming at the Justice Center which includes intensive services for young people who have engaged in criminal behavior, meaningful pre-trial supervision and alternatives to incarceration for adults, and community-based programming such as Youth Court, Neighborhood Youth Justice Council, and an employment-readiness program. Prior to joining the Center for Court Innovation, Ms. Dana served as an Assistant District Attorney at the Kings County District Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn, New York. In that role, Ms. Dana prosecuted criminal cases utilizing the many diversion programs offered at the Red Hook Community Justice Center. Ms. Dana holds a B.A. from Fordham University and a J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School.

Jasmine Harden is the Coordinator of the Newark Youth Court at Newark Community Solutions.  In her role Ms. Harden oversees the day-to-day operations of the Newark Youth Court, supervising and managing youth court participants, staff, interns, and volunteers. In addition Ms. Harden trains members on the various roles of youth court, supervises hearing sessions, and conducts outreach to schools and community agencies. Ms. Harden joined the Newark Youth Court in 2012, initially serving as the program’s Case Developer. Throughout her professional career, Ms. Harden has held various positions in the State of New Jersey’s Children’s System of Care, including Care Manager and Behavioral Technician. Ms. Harden received her B.A. in Justice Studies and M.A. in Child Advocacy and Policy from Montclair State University.

Jessica Weis currently serves as the Program Director for the Petey Greene Program which supplements educational programs in correctional institutions by preparing volunteers to provide free, quality tutoring and related programming to support the academic achievement of incarcerated people. Jessica began her career in direct service, first with AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps and then with Brooklyn College Community Partnership. With AmeriCorps she traveled the country, completing community service projects, two of which aided in the recovery of those affected by Hurricane Katrina. With Brooklyn College, Jessica worked to connect Brooklyn high school students with tutors and artists from Brooklyn College. Jessica began a master's program at New York University in public administration while also transitioning to District 79, Alternative Schools and Programs for the New York City Department of Education. At District 79 Jessica spent the majority of her time supporting its largest program, the citywide high school equivalency program (formerly known as GED Plus). Jessica supported sixty-program sites with communication, testing, graduation, workforce development and the transition from the GED to its replacement exam, the TASC. Jessica came on as Program Director for the Petey Greene Program in April of 2016.

Jamila Hammami is a queer first­ generation Tunisian­ Arab American woman of color community organizer & social worker from the south, now based in NYC. She is a founder and Executive Director of the Queer Detainee Empowerment Project. She is a graduate of the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College with a degree in Community Organizing Social Work, with a specialization in Immigrants and Refugees. She comes to this work with personal and familial experiences with the incarceration system, a background in reproductive justice, working to center woman of color’s voices in movements, and witnessing the impacts of migration and racism in her formative years in Texas. Jamila is a survivor of police brutality and the carceral system; but is fortunate to have been able to remain in the free world based on civil rights violations. She is also a leader of the NYC chapter of Black & Pink, an organization run and led by those that are currently or are previously incarcerated and free world allies.


Panel 2: Reimagining Justice

Amanda Berman is the Project Director of the Red Hook Community Justice Center, the nation's first multi-jurisdictional community court. Ms. Berman leads an interdisciplinary team of staff members who assess and link defendants with services, monitor compliance, oversee community restitution projects, assist victims, and collaborate with government and community stakeholders to promote principles of procedural justice, community engagement, and problem-solving. Prior to joining the Center for Court Innovation, Ms. Berman served as the senior director of court advocacy for the Fortune Society, where she oversaw court operations for alternative-to-incarceration programs. Ms. Berman began her career as a public defender at The Bronx Defenders, where she represented clients on cases ranging from misdemeanors to violent felonies and homicides. She also served as a trainer, supervisor, and team leader at the organization. Ms. Berman holds a J.D. from New York University School of Law and a B.A. from Brown University.

Andre Ward is the Director of Programs at Common Justice and a long-time advocate for the people most affected by violence and the criminal justice system. He teaches Social Work as an adjunct professor at Medgar Evers College. Andre is a senior fellow with the Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions, a senior fellow of the National Trust for the Development of Men, and a board member of The Center for Psychotherapy at Family Renaissance. Prior to joining Common Justice’s team, he served as the Director of Workforce Development at the Osborne Association. A published author and speaker, Andre is also co-host and associate producer for On the Count: The Criminal and Prison Justice Report on WBAI. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Social Work from Medgar Evers College and a Master of Social Work from Lehman College.

Workshops 2: Strategies for Prison Abolition

The Youth Organizing Collective (YOC) is a collective of young people who build community and create safer spaces for each other while engaging in political education and community organizing. The program’s priorities also include compensating young people for their time, energy, and analyses. YOC is a community of young people and H.O.L.L.A! family who support varied political projects, and encourage young people to take control over their own narratives, whether that means resisting through engaging in art making, critical participatory action research, or community organizing.  Representatives from YOC include: Keron Bennett, Rakim Covington, Machlie Edouard, Cory Greene, Philip Proszowski and Cephon Bellevue,Victor Alvarez,  and Alexander Davis.

Mariame Kaba is an organizer, educator and curator whose work focuses on racial justice, gender justice, transformative/restorative justice, ending violence, dismantling the prison industrial complex, and supporting youth leadership development. She is the founder and director of Project NIA, a grassroots organization with a vision to end youth incarceration. She has co-founded multiple organizations and projects over the years including We Charge Genocide, the Chicago Freedom School, the Chicago Taskforce on Violence against Girls and Young Women, the Chicago Alliance to Free Marissa Alexander and Survived & Punished collective among others. Mariame is also a co-organizer of the Just Practice Collaborative, a training and mentoring group focused on sustaining a community of practitioners that provide community-based accountability and support structures for all parties involved with incidents and patterns of sexual, domestic, relationship, and intimate community violence. She is on the advisory boards of the Chicago Torture Justice Memorials and the Chicago Community Bond Fund. Her writing has appeared in the Nation Magazine, the Guardian, The Washington Post, In These Times, Jacobin, The New Inquiry and more. She runs Prison Culture blog (

Kaela Economos is a social work supervisor and advocacy specialist at the Brooklyn Defender Services. She has over fifteen years of experience working on family defense issues in New York City and is active in a number of city-wide coalitions advocating for child welfare reform initiatives. An activist who originally organized around police brutality and prison issues, Kaela became passionate about child welfare reform and family defense after organizing with parents whose children had been removed by child protective services. Kaela is honored to work on behalf of parents and families in a field that she considers one of the most important (and overlooked) social justice issues in the contemporary United States. Kaela holds a B.S. in Social Sciences from Portland State University and a M.S.W. from Hunter College.

Fallon Speaker is a Team Leader and Supervising Attorney at The Bronx Defenders. Fallon received her J.D. from the University of North Carolina School of Law. While at law school in Chapel Hill, she was the Senior Editor for the Southern Region Black Law Students Association Law Journal, President of the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund, and Pro Bono Chair of the Black Law Students Association.  Additionally, Fallon was a student attorney with UNC School of Law’s Juvenile Justice Clinic.  She spent her first summer of law school as an intern with the North Carolina Justice Center and her second summer with The Bronx Defenders.  Fallon also received her undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Erin Cloud is an Attorney at The Bronx Defenders. Erin graduated from Fordham University School of Law, where she was a Stein Scholar for Public Interest and Ann Moynihan Fellow for law and integrative social work.  Erin interned at The Door Legal Services, The Bronx Defenders, and for the Honorable Dora L. Irizarry of the Eastern District of New York.  Erin was the recipient of the Archibald P. Murray Award given to the student who has completed the greatest number of pro-bono hours while in law school.  She was also the recipient of the Ann Moynihan prize for outstanding clinical work in the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice.  Before attending law school, Erin taught English and fifth grade at the Iringa International School in Tanzania.  She also taught Spanish in Baltimore, Maryland.  Erin graduated from Emory University in Atlanta where she obtained her undergraduate degree in Spanish and Dance.


Panel 3: Taking CloseRikers as a Case Study

Kathy Morse is an advocate on social justice issues, concentrating on improving the quality of educational programming in jails and prisons as well as the community upon release. Kathy holds a Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Law and Justice from Rowan University (1981) and worked for over thirty years as a paralegal. Currently she is the Assistant Regional Manager in New York for the Petey Greene Program which supplements educational programs in correctional institutions by preparing volunteers, both college students and members of the community, to provide free, quality tutoring and related programming to support the academic achievement of incarcerated people in some of the same facilities in which she was detained. Drawing from her personal experience within the criminal justice system both as a paralegal and then as a defendant, Kathy has participated as a panelist at numerous events regarding women’s issues while incarcerated, specifically on educational programming, reentry issues, family reunification and mental health services in state prisons and city and county jails.

Five Mualimm-ak is a human rights and mental health advocate who, since his return to society, has worked nationally to end state-funded torture and the prison industrial complex. He has founded many state-wide projects that serve those directly impacted by mass incarceration, and is an integral member of national legislative groups and coalitions working for human rights. Five is the co-founder of Incarcerated Nation Corp (INC), a collective of post incarcerated project leaders that serve individuals who are incarcerated, previously incarcerated & their families. As a unified and visible voice, INC educates the public through meaningful educational projects that expose the conditions of confinement for millions of incarcerated people. Five is also a national organizer with the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, T’ruah, the Anti-Torture Initiative of the United Nations and the ACLU. He is Board member of the Student Alliance for Prison Reform, a national network of students and student organizations with a mission of supporting initiatives to bring about change in the US criminal justice. He sits on many Boards providing guidance to the movement against mass incarceration and groups dedicated to the support of those impacted and works with the United Nations Anti-torture initiative and the US Human Rights Networks, NRCAT and the ACLU as a Human Rights Defender.


Closing Plenary: Fighting the Normalization of Human Caging

Alec Karakatsanis graduated from Yale College in 2005 with a degree in Ethics, Politics, & Economics and Harvard Law School in 2008, where he was a Supreme Court Chair of the Harvard Law Review. He is the Founder and Executive Director of Civil Rights Corps, an organization dedicated to groundbreaking systemic litigation and advocacy challenging injustices in the American criminal legal system. Alec was recently awarded the 2016 Trial Lawyer of the Year by Public Justice for his role in bringing constitutional civil rights challenges to the American money bail system and the 2016 Stephen B. Bright Award for contributions to indigent defense in the South by Gideon’s Promise. He serves as Co-Chair of the American Bar Association Committee on Pretrial Justice. Alec is the author, among other things, of Policing, Mass Imprisonment, and the Failure of American Lawyers, 128 Harv. L. Rev. F. 253 (2015), and The Human Lawyer, 34 N.Y.U. Rev. L. & Soc. Change 563 (2010). Alec is a former public defender in Alabama and Washington, D.C., and he has taught a high school class on mass incarceration, civil rights, and safe interaction with the police in the D.C. public schools. He is a mentor in the Big Brother/Big Sister program and spends the rest of his time playing the piano, making weird paintings, and playing soccer.