Decarcerate Utah is a prison abolitionist collective established in 2017 that seeks to dismantle the prison-industrial complex and end the harm that it perpetuates. We aim to build safer communities by abolishing incarceration and policing—instead building life-giving and -sustaining systems and models such as mutual aid, reparations, harm reduction, and community self-governance. We also understand that the scope of abuse inflicted upon those affected by the carceral system are often exacerbated along lines of marginalization and identity.
Hence, fundamental to the demand for abolition is the demand for a reconstitution of society as we know it—that is, abolition cannot be fully realized without the fall of settler colonialism, racial capitalism, heteropatriarchy, ableism, and transmisogyny. As Ruth Wilson Gilmore has said, abolition is ultimately about presence: it tears down systems of harm while feeding the life-giving and life-sustaining institutions necessary to render the carceral system obsolete. With this in mind, our platform is simple, and calls for us to divest from prisons and invest in communities.
In Utah, Indigenous communities are some of the most affected by the carceral system, as well as by the violence of dispossession, capitalism, health crises, and environmental degradation. We recognize the violence conducted by the U.S. government against Indigenous people, and we respectfully acknowledge the Ute, Goshute, Paiute, Shoshone, and Diné nations, on whose ancestral lands we conduct our campaigns.
Since Black queer radical feminists and marginalized peoples as a whole are at the forefront for movements toward abolition, we turn to them to inform our practices in education and organizing for prison industrial complex abolition in Utah. We are involved in education and outreach through sharing resources, hosting workshops, and organizing campaigns about the abolition of policing, prisons and jails, immigration enforcement, and surveillance, while pushing for abolition through policy advocacy, action campaigns, and community organizing.
As Angela Davis writes in Are Prisons’ Obsolete?, by “positing decarceration as our overarching strategy, we would try to envision a continuum of alternatives to imprisonment—demilitarization of schools, revitalization of education at all levels, a health system that provides free physical and mental care to all, and a justice system based on reparation and reconciliation rather than retribution and vengeance.” (107)
Our platform is simple:
Divest from exploitative systems that the prison industrial complex thrives on.
- A budget is a reflection of our values. We can start by reducing the funding that prisons, police, jails, detention centers, and private prisons receive at the city, county, and statewide level.
- Wealth inequality feeds the prison industrial complex. This has its roots in racial capitalism, a term that describes the system by which class exploitation is fundamentally racialized (rather than superseding or constructing race from class).
- Under capitalism, money is power, control, and violence. This takes dignity and humanity out of accountability work. The only way to heal from harm and collective trauma is to direct power and material resources back into communities.
Invest in community wholeness that allows for self-determinism and autonomy.
- By eliminating the conditions that create harm, we can begin healing from collective and intergenerational trauma. This means eliminating wealth disparities and establishing a universal baseline of wellness, so that individual and community needs are met.
- A regenerative, reciprocal economy wherein people take care of and support each other would eliminate much of what we understand as “crime” simply because we would be meeting people’s needs and providing everyone with effective means of self determination. When we leave members of our community unsupported and criminalize their methods of survival, we exacerbate the problem without addressing its root.
- There is no single alternative to jail because jail has become a one-size-fits-all solution to many social problems. However, punishment does not solve these problems. In order to effectively mitigate harm, we need a constellation of alternative strategies and institutions before us so we are not limited to one source of influence (which would be susceptible to corruption). Because prisons act as a catch-all, we seek to understand and address harm at the many diverse levels at which prison fails to do so.
Points of Unity
- We support bringing the margins to the center in our campaign and educational work, and reject the notion that people—especially those who are marginalized based on race or class—are disposable, which is a primary function of the carceral system.
- We oppose the expansion or construction of any new prison, jail, detention center, youth facility, or other operation that functions under a similar carceral framework.
- We support measures that will reduce the prison or jail populations until everyone is freed and prisons are obsolete.
- We oppose any reform that reinforces the legitimacy of the criminal justice system.
- We support transformative justice, disability justice, and healing practices that fall outside of colonial traditions.
- We oppose the operations of police and street-based harassment.
- We support interdependent and supportive communities that take care of each other.
- We oppose capitalism and the racial inequities it enshrines.
- We support mutual aid and similar systems of community care and solidarity.
- We oppose the categorization of “good” or “bad” criminals, “nonviolent” vs. “violent,” or “guilty” vs. “innocent,” understanding that our use of this language is reinforced by white supremacy.
- We oppose “pseudo-alternatives” to policing and prisons (such as community policing or psychiatric centers that operate like jails), knowing that they rely on catch-all approaches to social problems just like prisons do, and that they do not change our punitive and punishment-based culture.
- We support creating conditions in our community that eliminate the root causes of harm, such as providing housing and food security, affordable healthcare, and transformative models of conflict mediation.