In 2022, Critical Resistance, Interrupting Criminalization and Community Justice Exchange created a new toolkit and online resource hub for resisting criminalization through courts and the court system. The “Beyond Criminal Courts” website is a one-stop shop of toolkits and includes an extensive compilation of resources for resisting courts: beyondcourts.org
Why focus on criminal courts?
The majority of criminal court cases start with surveillance, policing, and criminalization in service of racial capitalism, cisheteropatriarchy, ableism, and border imperialism. Criminalization is a primary tool in establishing and maintaining these relations of power, and criminal law has always targeted people, communities, and behaviors in service of this goal. Instead of preventing or interrupting violence, criminalization has furthered the structural violence endemic to racial capitalism. As Ruth Wilson Gilmore says, “prisons are catchall solutions to social problems.”
Every day, criminal courts separate families, confine people to cages, depress wages, and inflict long-lasting emotional distress. For this reason, organizers must not only work to defund police and prisons. We have to dismantle the entire prison industrial complex, which includes courts, pre-trial supervision, probation, parole and diversion programs. At the same time, we need to dream and create new ways to prevent and interrupt violence, investigate and adjudicate conflict and harm, and invite accountability and transformation.
This means abolitionist movements need to focus on the operation, power and resources of criminal courts. Many already are. On this site, we’ll share what we know about criminal courts and why they can never deliver justice. Many procedural reforms promoted to eliminate discrimination and create more fairness in courts simply prop up a system that is designed to surveil, police, criminalize, and punish. Instead, we are more hopeful about campaigns to reduce funding, power and legitimacy, and ultimately dismantle criminal courts. Of course these are also inextricably linked to fights to divest from policing and punishment and invest in community safety.
As we build a society that creates the conditions for us all to flourish, we are imagining ways to evaluate and adjudicate harm, violence, and abuse outside of systems of surveillance, policing, punishment, and exile.
Criminal courts are just one part of the prison industrial complex.
They are situated in a vast web of public and private organizations, institutions, and individuals that accumulate power and profit from the expansion of systems of control and confinement. Like police and prisons, they consume millions of (mostly public) dollars a year that could be used to prevent, interrupt and heal from violence. To date, organizing and theorizing has primarily focused on other aspects of this web, specifically policing and imprisonment. This project seeks to intervene explicitly at the site of criminal courts, in ways that are connected to fights to defund and abolish police, criminalization, jails, prisons, ICE detention centers, surveillance, and more. Even as we focus on dismantling individual components, it is critical to keep the entire prison-industrial-complex in view.