The New Jim Code

Abolition for the People

The Shiny, High-Tech Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

Far from loosening incarceration’s grip, modern tools like predictive policing and tracking apps have instead deepened the carceral state’s influence over everyday life

Ruha
Published in
6 min readOct 23, 2020

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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.

From everyday apps to complex algorithms, technology has the potential to hide, speed, and deepen discrimination, all while appearing neutral and even benevolent when compared to overtly racist practices of a previous era. Predictive policing programs, criminal risk assessment tools, and electronic ankle monitors are a few of the tools that perpetuate the injustices of the U.S. criminal legal system, or what I call the New Jim Code. The good news is that with the rise of the New Jim Code, many individuals and organizations are developing abolitionist tools as part of a larger data justice movement — challenging surveillance technologies that harm communities and designing interventions that foster collective well-being. Struggles over abolitionist futures are being waged not just in the streets, but on our phones, apps, and platforms.

For example, Appolition is an app that converts your daily change into bail money to free Black people from jail. (Calls for abolition are never simply about bringing harmful systems to an end but also envisioning new ones.) When Appolition co-founder Kortney Ziegler and I sat on a panel together at the 2018 Allied Media Conference, he pointed out the existence of similar technologies that present themselves as liberatory but whose creators do not share an abolitionist commitment. At the time, Jay-Z’s Roc Nation had invested in a “decarceration startup” called Promise, which aims to address the problem of pretrial detention for people who…

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Ruha
LEVEL
Writer for

Author of Race After Technology, Director of the Ida B. Wells Just Data Lab & Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University.