On April 14th-15th, Students for Prison Education and Reform (SPEAR) held their fourth annual conference, “Toward Abolition: Dismantling the Carceral State.” This year’s theme was prison abolition, alongside restorative justice and alternatives to incarceration. SPEAR hosted twenty-seven guest speakers in total, and welcomed over 200 attendees to campus, including Princeton students and faculty members, students from over 25 other universities, and community members from the broader advocacy and activism community. On Friday the 14th, the conference opened with a keynote by Professor Ruth Wilson Gilmore, a seminal activist and scholar of the carceral state. Her lecture was followed by dinner and a performance of The Bullpen, a play written and performed by Joe Assadourian.
The second day of the conference was held in the beautiful and newly-renovated Carl A. Fields Center on campus. Professor Judah Schept opened the day by delivering a talk on the relationship between the carceral state, deindustrialization, and neoliberalism. The rest of the day included a powerful panel with speakers from the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, a panel on “Reimagining Justice,” a panel on the CLOSERikers campaign, and two workshop sessions, which featured a total of eight organizations, including the Harlem Youth Court, the Queer Detainee Empowerment Project, H.O.L.L.A. (How Our Lives Link Altogether), and others. To wrap up the day, Alec Karakatsanis, founder and executive director of Civil Rights Corp, presented “Fighting the Normalization of Human Caging,” an interactive talk with the audience in which he discussed his work fighting the money bail system through impact litigation.
Overall, the conference was a resounding success. SPEAR hopes that attendees came away from the experience revitalized and recommitted to the fight for racial and social justice, and with new perspectives on the linked crises of mass incarceration, policing, and surveillance. PPro’s generous contribution was crucial in allowing SPEAR to expand this year’s conference to include a greater number of speakers who represented a broad range of perspectives and experiences from both within and outside the criminal legal system.