September 2018 marks 20 years since Critical Resistance: Beyond the Prison Industrial Complex, the 1998 conference which re-ignited a movement and launched our organization. The abolitionist movement to dismantle the prison industrial complex (PIC) has grown tremendously since then.
In order to grow the movement and increase the strength and passion for PIC abolition, we are beginning these preliminary online archival documentations. We will share materials, histories, lessons and practices from the past 20 years online and will host some discussions and reflections on this foundational era. We aim to strengthen political unity across our movement and other sectors about PIC abolition, to build stronger intergenerational understanding of how we arrived in this current moment, and illuminate the ways that CR has shaped and contributed the movement to dismantle the PIC.
We invite you to join us this year and beyond as we reflect on the gains of the past 20 years, uplift contributions and contributors, and illuminate ways forward.
Conference title: 
Critical Resistance: Beyond the Prison Industrial Complex
September 25-27, 1998
University of California Berkeley 

Critical Resistance was formed in 1997 when activists challenging the idea that imprisonment and policing are a solution for social, political, and economic problems came together to organize a conference that examined and challenged what we have come to call the prison industrial complex (PIC). The first CR conference was the way to launch campaign work (Stop Delano II, the campaign that halted California’s 20-year prison building boom) that started immediately.

Planned by former prisoners, family members, organizers, scholars, attorneys, service providers, students, and more, the purpose of this conference was to address the alarming growth of the prison system, popularize the idea of the “prison industrial complex” (PIC), and make “abolition” a practical theory of change. 

Held in Berkeley, California, in September 1998, the conference brought together over 3,500 activists, academics, former and current prisoners, labor leaders, religious organizations, feminists, gay, lesbian and transgender activists, youth, families, and policy makers from literally every state and other countries. The three-day event featured nearly 200 different panels and workshops. The conference also included a number of cultural events and a film festival. 

While the conference was a huge success, CR recognized that its work had only begun. The program, messaging and organizing to pull off the founding conference seeded the call to carry the work forward. In the months following the 1998 conference, the phone kept ringing with people ready to “do Critical Resistance” and it was Rose Braz, member of the 1997 collective and CR’s first staffer, who helped push this effort forward. The goal of CR was, and continues to be, building a movement to eliminate the prison industrial complex.

The two subsequent conferences (CR East, 2001 and CR South 2003) served as check-ins and efforts to expand, diffuse, and syncretize knowledge and action, in order to forge stronger ties between and across places and issues where people fight. CR East and CR South pages coming soon…


Critical Resistance: Beyond the Prison Industrial Complex, Part 1: Visions of Freedom by Neal Morrison, Luana Plunkett.
Critical Resistance: Beyond the Prison Industrial Complex, Part 2: USA INCarcerated by Paper Tiger TV West.

Posters and materials

Do you have photos or materials to share? Please email them to with “CR1998” in the subject. Thank you for helping us build this collection!

Art by Rupert Garcia.
Art by Rupert Garcia
Critical Resistance 1998 Conference Program. Click to view PDF of full booklet.
Critical Resistance Sign, 1998

Related publications

“Organized Resistance: Building a Movement Against the Prison Industrial Complex,” by Cassandra Shaylor. Published  September 10, 1998 in Colorlines.

Critical Resistance to the Prison-Industrial Complex, Social Justice Journal, Vol. 27, No. 3 (2000). Edited by the Critical Resistance Publications Collective. 240 pp., paper. ISBN: 978-0-935206-03-6.

  • “Overview: Critical Resistance to the Prison-Industrial Complex,” by Critical Resistance editors. Social Justice, Vol. 27, No. 3 (81), Critical Resistance to the Prison-Industrial Complex (Fall 2000), pp. 1-5. Published by: Social Justice/Global Options

  • “The History of Critical Resistance,” by Critical Resistance guest editors.  Social Justice, Vol. 27, No. 3 (81), Critical Resistance to the Prison-Industrial Complex (Fall 2000), pp. 6-10. Published by: Social Justice/Global Options.

  • “Reflections on Critical Resistance,” by Rita (Bo) Brown, Terry Kupers, Andrea Smith, Julia Sudbury, Dylan Rodriguez and Nancy Stoller. Social Justice, Vol. 27, No. 3 (81), Critical Resistance to the Prison-Industrial Complex (Fall 2000), pp. 180-194. Published by: Social Justice/Global Options.

“Class Dismissed: Higher Education vs. Corrections During the Wilson Years,” Justice Policy Institute, September 1998. Khaled Taqi-Eddin, et al.

  • On September 23, 1998, Justice Policy Institute (criminal justice think-tank) released a study detailing the gap in spending between prison and universities (Khaled Taqi-Eddin, et al., “Class Dismissed: Higher Education vs. Corrections During the Wilson Years,” Justice Policy Institute, September 1998). They presented their findings at the CR conference. 


CR1998 Organizing Committee 

  • Bo (rita d. brown) 
  • Ellen M. Barry 
  • Jennifer Beach 
  • Rose Braz 
  • Julie Browne 
  • Cynthia Chandler 
  • Kamari Clarke 
  • Angela Y. Davis
  • Leslie DiBenedetto Skopek 
  • Gita Drury 
  • Rayne Galbraith 
  • Ruthie Gilmore 
  • Naneen Karraker 
  • Terry A. Kupers 
  • Rachel Lederman 
  • Joyce Miller 
  • Dorsey Nunn 
  • Dylan Rodriguez
  • Eli Rosenblatt 
  • Jane Segal
  • Cassandra Shaylor 
  • Andrea Smith
  • Nancy Stoller 
  • Chinyere Oparah (Julia Sudbury)
  • Robin Templeton 
  • Suran Thrift
  • Stafanie Kelly
  • Greg Winter

National Advisory Board (CR1998 poster):

  • Ward Churchill
  • Juanita Diaz-Cotto
  • Ruth Gilmore 
  • David Theo Goldberg
  • Craig Haney
  • Joy James
  • Manning Marable
  • Robert Meeropol
  • Charlene Mitchell
  • Salim Muwakkil
  • Beth Richie
  • Gloria Rolando
  • Luana Ross
  • Marcos Vilar
  • Corey Weinstein
  • Donna Wilmott
  • Adrian Wing

Sponsors [partial list, as listed on the conference poster]

  • Blessing Way Foundation
  • California Coalition for Women Prisoners
  • California Prison Focus
  • Berkeley Department of Ethnic Studies
  • UC Santa Cruz Department of History of Consciousness
  • Legal Services for Prisoners with Children
  • Prison Activist Resource Center

Funders for the conference and campaign work included: 

  • Blessing Way Foundation: provided the initial seed money
  • UCHRI (University of California Research Institute)
  • Solidago (Funding Exchange)
  • The LEF Foundation
  • Vanguard Public Foundation
  • The Sister Fund
  • Gaea Foundation
  • Tides Foundation
  • Veech: for Native American participation
  • The MS Foundation

Additional funding and in kind support was obtained from: 

  • several departments of the University of California
  • University of Michigan
  • New York University Africana Studies Department
  • University of Colorado Ethnic Studies Department
  • law firm of Heller, Ehrman, White & McAuliffe
  • Legal Services for Prisoners with Children
  • Prison Activist Resource Center
  • Criminal Justice Consortium
  • Food Not Bombs
  • Several other community organizations

Additionally, CR received contributions from major donors, organizations and individuals to support the conference and campaign work