Vol. 1 No. 1 (2023): Abolitionist Perspectives in Social Work

Charting a Path to Full and Free Lives: An Abolitionist Vision for Reentry

Kymberly Byrd
Vanderbilt University

Published 04/17/2023


  • abolition,
  • reentry programming,
  • social opportunity,
  • economic opportunity,
  • reentry


Scholar and activist Angela Davis writes, “Short of major wars, mass incarceration has been the most thoroughly implemented government social program of our time” (Davis, 2003, p. 11). With approximately 600,000 people exiting prisons each year, reentry efforts have garnered local, state, and national attention. Many of these reentry efforts do little to improve the social and economic conditions of those returning home. By failing to examine the social and economic forces driving incarceration, these efforts often reproduce the oppressive conditions they intend to address. While there have been bipartisan efforts to reform the system, prison abolitionists argue that the system is beyond repair. In this paper, I examine the issues with existing reentry efforts and articulate the need for an abolitionist vision for reentry. Drawing from interviews with formerly incarcerated individuals, this paper demonstrates how abolition can create the social and economic conditions for full and free lives after incarceration. I conclude by exploring the role of prefigurative politics in crafting an abolitionist vision for reentry and implications for social work practice and policy.