Abolition for the People

Disability Justice Is an Essential Part of Abolishing Police and Prisons

Ableism forms and informs violence, oppression, and incarceration, yet it continues to be ignored by social justice movements

This article is part of Abolition for the People, a series brought to you by a partnership between Kaepernick Publishing and LEVEL, a Medium publication for and about the lives of Black and Brown men. The series, which comprises 30 essays and conversations over four weeks, points to the crucial conclusion that policing and prisons are not solutions for the issues and people the state deems social problems — and calls for a future that puts justice and the needs of the community first.

Understanding Disability, Ableism, Policing, and Prisons

The majority of society has come to understand disability through a lens of whiteness, wealth, and other privileges that actively exclude the experiences of Black/Indigenous and low- and no-income people. Importantly, those with disabilities are disproportionately impacted by deprivation, violence and/or precarity—and indeed, these environmental factors and socioeconomic experiences are a cause, complicator, and even consequence of disability.

Abolitionist movements must contend with how disability and ableism interact with carceral systems, and be committed to abolishing all spaces to which marginalized people are disappeared.

Disability justice is a requisite for abolition because carceral systems medicalize, pathologize, criminalize, and commodify survival, divergence, and resistance. The past and present connections between disability and all forms of carceral violence are overt and overwhelming. Disabled/neurodivergent people comprise just 26% of the united states population — but represent up to half of the people killed by police, over 50% of the incarcerated adult prison population, up to 85% of the incarcerated youth population, and a significant number of those incarcerated in medicalized carceral spaces like nursing facilities, group facilities, and civil commitment, “treatment” facilities, and “hospitals.” Whether under the pretense of “care” or “corrections,” disabled people are highly represented in all carceral populations. History explains this phenomenon.

The Difference Between Disability Rights and Disability Justice

Where disability rights seeks to change social conditions for some disabled people via law and policy, disability justice moves beyond law and policy: It seeks to radically transform social conditions and norms in order to affirm and support all people’s inherent right to live and thrive. All social justice movements, then, must put the needs of disabled people — especially those at the margins of the margins — front and center. This work begins with unearthing and understanding the inextricable links between ableism and other systems of oppression.

abolitionist organizer-attorney uniting communities & struggles by grounding movements in disability justice | @behearddc | @talilalewis | www.talilalewis.com