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.


Tentative Schedule: (times/subjects may change)


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

8:30 pm - Performance of The Bullpen by Joe Assadourian in McCormick Hall 101


Saturday, April 15th:

7:30am - Breakfast in Carl A. Fields Center (CAF)

8:30am - Opening Plenary by Judah Schept

9:30am - Panel 1 on Prison Abolition in the Context of Gender

11:00am - Workshop 1 on Alternatives to Incarceration for Youth and Ending the School-Prison Pipeline (Salam Mustafa, Harlem Youth Court; Olivia Dana, Staten Island Youth Justice Center; Jasmine Harden, Newark Community Solutions)

12:15pm - Lunch in CAF

1:45pm - Panel 2 on Alternative Conceptions of Justice (Andrew Ward, Common Justice; Amanda Berman, Red Hook Peacemaking Program)

3:15pm - Workshop 2 on Strategies for Prison Abolition

4:30pm - Panel 3 on Taking Rikers as a Case Study

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

7:30pm - Student Banquet


Speaker Profiles (continuing to be updated):

Friday Night

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.

The Bullpen is an 18-character play written and performed by Joe Assadourian and directed by Richard Hoehler. Joe discovered his acting ability and theatrical voice while serivng time behind bars for attempted murder. Joe was released from prison in 2013. Two years before his release, he reluctantly joined a theater workshop, where he quickly discovered his special skills and with Hoehler's guidance began creating an eight-minute scene that incorporated characters he meets during his incarceration. That eight-minute scene evolved into 'The Bullpen'. Joe was nominated for the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Solo Performance.

Saturday Morning

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.

Saturday Afternoon

Andre Ward is 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.

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.

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.