Liberation Penology: Our Strategy of Transforming Prisons into Schools of Liberation (2021)

schools-of-liberationThe Revolutionary Intercommunal Black Panther Party’s (RIBPP) Ministry of Justice has a particular focus on work surrounding the prisons and transforming them into “schools of liberation.” Strategically this means promoting proletarianizing prisoners as a form of ‘rehabilitation’ and envisioning the guiding principles we would apply to remolding people if revolution were won today. But of course to win the masses to taking up this struggle we must begin with principles that they grasp.


Proletarianizing Prisoners and Extending Democratic Rights to All

If we start from the bourgeois premise of democratic rights (civil rights) for all then the status of prisoners as “slaves of the state” as embodied in the 13th Amendment must change. So what must we change to accomplish this?

Eradicating prisoners’ slave status and proletarianizing them calls for advocating for their full voting rights and right to join trade unions and political parties and organizations, freedom of speech, freedom of communication (including with other prisoners). We must of course continue the fight to amend the 13th Amendment to strike the clause that allows the enslavement and involuntary servitude of prisoners.

From the human rights perspective, we must call for an end to the death penalty (legalized lynching), torture, beatings, sexual abuse, and denial of contact and conjugal visits. Conjugal visits are an especial concern for Black people. Mass incarceration, which is disproportionately targeted at our communities and most fertile aged males, takes on a literal genocidal character, where we are prevented in huge numbers from reproducing.

Reducing (‘controlling’) or eliminating the population of a targeted people by increasing their death rate and reducing their birth rate is the basic strategy of genocide. This is typically carried out by killing off and removing the most virile-aged males from the group. In this particular, U.S. mass incarceration directly violates the International Convention Against Genocide, which is seldom spoken of, even in protest circles.

We must struggle against this condition, and revive the petition to charge the United States before the U.N. and in the court of world opinion with genocide as begun by Paul Robeson and continued by Malcolm X.

This includes exposing and resisting the destructive and disruptive impact of U.S. imprisonment on our communities, by removal of huge numbers of our men and breaking up our families. Which continues the “welfare” policies begun in the 20th century of pushing proletarian fathers as mutual providers and role models out of the Black urban communities, by limiting needed government subsidies to single mother households. Consider in many jails and prisons in underdeveloped countries, where racism isn’t a component of imprisonment, spouses and entire immediate families are permitted to live with prisoners inside the facilities.

We must advance the right of prisoners to work, to be paid a fair wage, to be represented by a union, and to collectively bargain over the sale of their labor power.

Prison labor must be discussed and promoted from a standpoint of social relevance not punitive and slave servitude and corporate profiteering. It should meet social needs that require little capital investment such as construction and maintenance, and doing useful projects in the community, like building and repairing schools and public housing accommodations.

In the U.S. the prison movement should be built and incorporated into the United Front Against Imperialism.

The guiding principle of our work is that oppression and abuse (which inhere in the existing prison system) is bad for people, making them destructive and unstable, and liberation is good. In propagating this line guards must be induced and won to free themselves of bad ideology and actually want to contributing to sorting out what is good and bad as it affects people’s mental health.

Our concept of “Liberation Penology” is a spinoff from “liberation theology” but aimed at taking on and refuting the bourgeois schools of criminology and penology that do nothing to positively change people or solve the problems of “crime,” antisocial behavior, and the mental health crisis in the developed world that is responded to in Amerika by warehousing the mentally ill in prisons.

We must demonstrate and present a coherent analysis and practice that demonstrates the causes of antisocial behavior and that imprisonment doesn’t work, and offer up the model of proletarianization as rehabilitation, combining productive work with education and positive socialization.


Liberation Penology in the Underdeveloped World

In the Third World context we should focus on the worst cases of inhumane prison conditions and practices and hinge on the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights.

Conditions in Afrikan prisons are the worst. They are virtually death camps, vastly overcrowded, disease ridden, violent and corrupt.

Next to the U.S., South Afrika imprisons the highest percentage of its population. The Prison Industrial Complex is growing there and getting high tech, while most of Afrika is low tech.

None of Afrikan prisons meet the U.N. criteria for basic human rights. Exposure of these horrors can be used to indict neocolonialism and imperialism and the current regimes’ failures to build socialism.

Many could be freed if there were a bail fund, for $20 or $50. A people’s bail fund could be set up with labor exchange, where prisoners work off the debt and replenish the bail fund.

A paralegal service could get many defendants out of their cells. Basic reforms could be won like letting prisoners out of their cells to grow vegetables, drill wells, and set up windmills to pump water. As Serve the People programs, the mass organizations could set up soup kitchens and medical clinics to provide nutritious meals and medical care to prisoners inside the razor wire. Many of these basic resources (medical care, clean water, and nutritious meals) aren’t available in Third World prisons.

On a grander scale, the RIBPP can create people power to carry out New Democratic revolution creating dramatic reforms coming in from outside through work in local communities and families, and working in unity with revolutionary communist parties leading People’s War in the rural areas. The foods grown by prisoners can supply the soup kitchens in both the prisons and the communities.

The Party working in all countries can help obtain medications to treat prisoners in the Third World with AIDS, HCV, malaria, STIs, etc. The Party can also recruit among medical professionals and medical students, to help develop barefoot doctors trained from the youth and prisoners.


Prison Mass Organizations

Our prison organizing must work in solidarity with prisoner support organizations and help support and develop their work.

First there is the Jericho Movement which specializes in dealing with the political prisoner issue. Second is the general Human Rights Coalition (HRC) which is generalized to deal with the gamut of prison issues. Then there are others like Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, Prison Lives Matter, Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, Free Alabama Movement, and others, that work to address various prison related issues that can be brought under the HRC.

The purpose of the Party’s work with the Jericho Movement is:

  1. Solidarity in relationship with existing Political Prisoners/Prisoners of War (PP/POWs);
  2. Link up younger generation of activists with PP/POWs;
  3. Prepare for legal defense of PP/POWs of the future;
  4. Revive the campaign to charge the U.S. with genocide against Black people and other oppressed nationalities, of which mass incarceration is a component part.

In the course of this work we want to lay the basis for building revolutionary youth organizations, recruit law students and young lawyers and build up a war chest for legal defenses.

With the HRC we want to support building the organization into an international mass organization of prisoners, their families and supporters, to:

  1. Amend the 13th Amendment;
  2. Extend universal suffrage to include prisoners and ex-prisoners;
  3. Abolish the death penalty and other forms of cruel and unusual punishment;
  4. Redefine prisoners’ rights in accordance with status of “citizen prisoners;”
  5. Defend right to transform prisons into “Liberation schools;”
  6. Facilitate close relations between prisoners and families and communities.

The HRC should be built to include all organizations working with prisoner right issues (more or less) and be built into an internationally recognized voice of the oppressed. Ideally these organizations could be brought under the umbrella of the Panther Solidarity Movement, embracing the 10 Point Program.

We have previously elaborated the STP programs which the PSO (previously the Black Brigade) should develop within the prisons.[1]

Dare to Struggle Dare to Win!
All Power to the People!



[1] Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, “Applied Panther Love: Organizing the Black Brigade Within and its work Within the Razor Wire Plantations”


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