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The Knotted Line

Evan Bissell, Author

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1977: Locked In

1977: California implements Uniform Determinate Sentencing Act. Prison terms begin to lengthen. The stated goal of the system becomes: “The purpose of imprisonment for crime is punishment.”   

The shift comes after public pressure to change from Indeterminate Sentencing, a system where people could receive sentences from one year to life (as was the case of George Jackson who was convicted of stealing $70 dollars) based on the periodic review of a parole board. 

Actions for Self-Determination:
  • 1980-present: Missouri Model of Juvenile Justice results in a lower than 8 percent recidivism rate and less than 8 percent of juvenile offenders going on to adult prison. 
  • 1998: Critical Resistance is formed by Angela Davis, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Rose Braz and others, creating a national network of organizations dedicated to dismantling the prison-industrial complex through abolition and  alternatives to incarceration. 
  • 2005-09: Restorative Justice program at Oakland's Cole Middle School results in a dramatic decrease in school suspensions, expulsions and disciplinary actions where the justice system in involved. 
  • 2006: California’s executions are halted after prison officials can find no doctors or nurses willing to administer lethal injection. 
  • 2011: California Prisoner Hunger Strike begins at Pelican Bay to protest the inhuman and cruel conditions of the Secure Housing Unit. At least 6,000 incarcerated people across the state join in solidarity.
Discussion Questions:
  • Imagine what a world would look like without prisons. Is this hard to do? Is it easier to imagine a world without slavery?
  • Imagine it's 1850. Do you fight to reform or abolish slavery? How does your response change if you imagine you are a free woman/man, a slave, a white Northerner, poor white Southerner or rich white Southerner?
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