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Prison abolitionism in Canada's prison capital

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On this week's episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with Rachel and Eric. They are members of End the Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC), a group organizing in Kingston, Ontario -- the city with the highest density of federal correctional facilities of any community in Canada -- for the abolition of prisons.

Prison abolitionism is a strand of radical anti-authoritarian politics that dreams of a world without prisons, and organizes to make it so. Exactly what that world might look like and what change might be required to reach it is an open question -- certainly it would require transformative social change that would reverberate far beyond prisons themselves. Though it has a longer history in this country than many realize, it is still a relatively small element of the itself-small radical left in Canada. But it is perhaps not surprising that one city that has a group that focuses its work on abolishing prisons is none other than Kingston, a city of about 120,000 people on the north shore of Lake Ontario, mid way between Toronto and Montreal.

EPIC began in 2010. Radicals in Kingston had already been discussing for awhile the possibility of starting a group focused on prisons. A couple of other things happened that year that led them to finally make it happen. On the one hand at the national level, you had radicals organizing against the Olympics in Vancouver and against the G20 summit in Toronto who were facing intense repression from police -- including the threat and then (for some) the reality of jail time. On the other hand at the local level, there was opposition developing in Kingston (both among prisoners themselves and among a politically diverse cross-section of residents) to the Harper government's plan to close the two farms used as work sites for prisoners and associated with prisons in the city. It seemed like the right time for radicals in Kingston to come together around prison issues, and to add a specifically prison abolitionist perspective to that broader campaign.

Over the years, EPIC's work has evolved. After the defeat of the campaign to save the prison farms, they mobilized for several years -- this time mostly on their own, rather than in coalition -- to oppose various prison expansion projects in Kingston. And since that campaign has receded, they have focused more attention on building relationships with individual inmates and inmate committees, and have done things like publish a regular newsletter that is mostly by and for prisoners, as well as supporting however they can acts of resistance by prisoners on the inside, all the while working hard to continue articulating their anarchist prison abolitionist perspective.

Rachel and Eric talk about prison abolitionist politics, about the very particular political context of Kingston, and about EPIC's work in the service of a world without prisons or any other institutions of domination and control.

To learn more about End the Prison Industrial Complex, click here.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show in general, visit its website here. You can learn about suggesting topics for future shows here.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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