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Against Carceral Feminism: Abolitionist Feminism and Geographies of Intersectional Justice

Authors: Anne Bonds*, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
Topics: Gender, Ethnicity and Race
Keywords: abolition, incarceration, gendered racial capitalism, feminism, intersectionality
Session Type: Paper
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In this paper, I draw from research with formerly incarcerated women in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and abolitionist feminist theorists (e.g. Richie, 2012; Gilmore, 2007; Davis, 2005; Lawston and Miners, 2014) to challenge forms of carceral feminism that argue for more inclusive prisons that are better suited for the incarceration of particularly gendered bodies. I focus particularly on the development of gender responsive programing at Taycheeda Correctional Institution, Wisconsin’s women’s prison, which is being touted as a victory for incarcerated women. This kind of carceral feminism understands women’s marginalization in prisons and in re-entry as a problem of reform, while leaving the existing ideological and material structures of carcerality intact. That is, rather than questioning how prisons have emerged as the catchall solutions to societal problems (Gilmore, 2007), they instead prompt us to consider how the practice of caging humans can be made more equitable across the lines of gender. Drawing from abolitionist feminists, I argue that discussions about the needs of women experiencing incarceration should emphasize both the expansion of material and social supports and the structural and ideological commitments that have given rise to the largest prison system in the world. As abolitionist frameworks become increasingly popular in geography, I issue concern about the exclusion of abolitionist feminists from this growing body of scholarship, emphasizing how abolitionist feminists have been at the forefront of intersectional scholarship and activism challenging gendered racial capitalism for decades.

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