In Carceral Con, Kay Whitlock and Nancy A. Heitzeg reject "the popular but erroneous notion that the massive harms and injustices of the criminal legal system can be reformed as a standalone project."
Whitlock, an activist, and Heitzeg, a sociologist, are pushing back from the left against the "bipartisan consensus" on criminal justice reform: the general agreement among many moderate liberals and conservatives that the government should reduce sentences for nonviolent offenders and improve reentry services for people leaving prisons. Whitlock and Heitzeg contend that a network of well-funded nonprofit foundations and advocacy groups manufactured this consensus and that its proposed reforms will only further entrench the current system's injustices.
Carceral Con is the latest of several recent books advocating abolition of police and prisons. Abolitionist Mariame Kaba published a collection of essays, We Do This 'Til We Free Us, and Black Lives Matter activist Derecka Purnell released Becoming Abolitionists, a half-memoir, half-polemic about defunding the police. Although rising crime rates have taken the sheen off "defund the police" rhetoric since George Floyd's murder, it's worth examining these arguments free from the heat of recent political debates.
Part of Whitlock and Heitzeg's argument is uncontroversially true. During the last decade, foundations and advocacy groups have indeed pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into criminal justice platforms that were palatable enough to build bipartisan coalitions in Congress and statehouses. For liberals, there were talking points about the drug war's injustices; for conservatives, there were promises of cost savings from closing prisons and reducing sentences. It all stops well short of abolition.