Activist Scholars and the Antiprison Movement

Prof. Julia Oparah (formerly Sudbury), Mills College

Activist scholars have played an important role in analyzing and struggling against the “prison-industrial complex” – a conglomeration of state surveillance/punishment machinery and corporate profit-making that has emerged as a response to the rising numbers of “refugees” displaced by the global economy and U.S. militarism worldwide. However, we have often overlooked the symbiotic relationship that exists between the academy and the prison-industrial complex and have therefore been slow to identify the ways we may also be profiting from mass incarceration. This presentation explores possibilities for activist scholarship to challenge the academy’s increasing complicity with penal expansion. I argue that activist scholars need to pay greater attention to the complexities and complicities posed by the rise of the “academic-prison industrial complex”. Weaving personal anecdote with critical analysis, I reflect on the challenges of producing counter-carceral scholarship and provide examples developed by activist scholars. My discussion pays particular attention to the social relations of prison research and calls on scholars to challenge the power inequalities among themselves, community activists, and people in prison.