A Discussion with Rachel Herzing

September 6, 2023 

Abolition of the prison industrial complex (PIC) is not a new idea, but the concept catapulted to widespread public consciousness and public debate in the summer of 2020 as protestors took to the streets in uprisings after the murder of George Floyd and as local campaigns to defund police bloomed across the country. Yet the politics of abolition remain widely misunderstood and maligned in public discourse, often dismissed as naïve, impractical, or counterproductive. Advocates, activists, and incarcerated organizers have been practicing abolitionist politics for decades, building campaigns to move policy and to transform community members’ relationships to one another: “to eliminate the use of surveillance, policing, sentencing, imprisonment, and execution and to build healthy, stable, self-determined societies that do not rely on coercion and vengeance to address harm.

In this conversation, with guest speaker Rachel Herzing, we explored what is meant by PIC abolition: what does it encompass? What are its roots and how have organizers built formations and campaigns to achieve their goals? How is it a political theory as well as a daily practice? How do abolitionists understand what makes for safe and thriving communities? And where do abolitionists go from here?


Rachel Herzing fights the violence of policing and imprisonment. She is a co-founder of Critical Resistance, a national grassroots organization dedicated to abolishing the prison industrial complex and was the co-director of the Story Telling & Organizing Project (STOP), a community resource sharing stories of interventions to interpersonal harm that do not rely on policing, imprisonment or traditional social services.

Moderated by Katy Naples-Mitchell.


The Abolitionist Politics, Practices, and Horizons  speaker series is organized by Katy Naples-Mitchell, Program Director of the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management, and  Sandra Susan Smith, Guggenheim Professor of Criminal Justice; Faculty Director, Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management; Director, Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy; Professor of Sociology; and Carol K. Pforzheimer Professor at the Radcliffe Institute.