Liberation pedagogy. Politics, current affairs opinions and rants from an anarchist teacher

But don’t we need prisons?

This is more a piece of general anarchist theory than anything to do with education, except that both prisons and schools play a massive role in socialising mainly young people to accept the rules of society with little explanation or expected input from the young person, with mind-numbing, arbitrary punishment as the consequence for transgression.

In this piece, I try to explain why many anarchists object to prisons and what they would hope to replace them with. Thinking about a self-managed justice system feeds nicely into thinking about how schools could be managed by, and in the interests of the workers and pupils, but that’s for another time!

The article originally appeared in the Westcountry Mutineer. Check them out at for more.

But don’t we need prisons?

One of the things that many people find hardest to accept about anarchist ideas is our rejection of prisons. This is a scary thought, so what would society look like without prisons as we know them?

Well, first of all, we should look at society as it is at the moment and the current prison population. The vast majority of people in prison are there because of the rotten system that we live in – from people that have had to steal to feed their families, ran up un-payable debts or got addicted to drugs or alcohol because of the powerless, penniless surroundings they find themselves in. Even a lot of violent crime only happens because people who feel powerless in their workplace, jobcentre or community end up snapping and taking out their frustration on someone who doesn’t deserve it.

So, we believe that most ‘crimes’ are caused by the unfair, unequal society that we live in. In a fair world where everyone has equal access to opportunities and resources and feels like a valued and important member of their community, the majority of modern crime just would not happen.

Of course, this doesn’t explain how we would deal with the proper wronguns. Realistically, in any society, there will be a tiny percentage who wants to rape, harm and kill, but do todays laws or prisons deter these people? Looking at crime statistics, the answer seems to be ‘no’.

We don’t believe that some people are safe to walk the streets and cause more harm and distress to their victims, or potential victims, but we place far more importance on education and rehabilitation over punishment alone. Look at the sky-high re-offending rates – does the current ‘justice’ system work for either the victim or the offender?

We also reject the idea that some posh, wigged-up bastard in a court room is capable of giving a fair judgement. Let’s not forget that today’s laws were dreamt up by the rich and powerful, mainly for the protection of them and their wealth and that  judges work for the most violent organisation going – the state . It is not laws, or punishments that prevent crimes such as rape and murder, it is that fact that most of us have reached a consensus that such actions are wrong. We believe that problems affecting a community need to be solved directly by that community. For example, a woman who has killed her abusive husband in self-defence will probably still do time today, whereas her neighbours and community would be far better placed to decide whether an actual crime has been committed.

So, when we say ‘no prisons’, we don’t mean ‘no justice’, we just think that most crimes are committed because of the inequalities in society and we don’t trust the government to decide what is ‘legal’ and what isn’t – as with everything else, the justice system  would work better if we ran it ourselves!


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