Since the police murder of George Floyd in May, phrases like “prison industrial complex,” “police abolition,” “community safety,” and “transformative justice” have been on the forefront of the American consciousness. Almost everyone wants an end to police violence and inhumane practices in the criminal legal system, but sometimes the imagination of what the future could look like ends at reform of the systems that seem to have existed for much of our country’s history.
Luckily, there are amazing academics, organizers, and historians who are dedicated to public education on the realities of policing and prisons, and the alternatives that we can put into place. While the articles and books that are available are usually focused on broad concepts, podcasts about abolition have the opportunity to be down to earth, detailed, and based in personal history.
The podcasts listed below are dedicated to helping you imagine a world without police or prisons. All that they ask of you is to keep an open mind, and to have the willingness to go beyond what currently exists.
Hosted by investigative reporter Robert Evans and rapper-activist Propaganda (Jason Petty), Behind the Police spends six wildly entertaining episodes providing a historical account of how we arrived at the American policing system in place today. Part of the larger podcast Behind the Bastards, this series brings the listener on an unflinching journey detailing how corrupt and inhumane police officers and departments can be. Despite the horrific subject matter, you’ll find yourself laughing along at times, especially if you’re a Black American who may be unsurprised by what you’re hearing. It’s worth listening to the entire series, and it’ll likely feel impossible to believe in police reform after you finish.
Make sure you have tissues ready before listening to this podcast, because the stories told by the parents on Two Sides of Justice are utterly heartbreaking. Produced by community violence expert and social worker Kathryn Bocanegra, the project features audio from family members who have been in contact with the criminal legal system. The honesty and detail in these stories can be painful, especially in the case of Julie, who talks about the difference between punishment and accountability for incarcerated youth. There are too few stories that promote an honest look at jails, prisons, and their effect on the loved ones, making Two Sides of Justice a vital resource.
With easy-to-digest, 20-to-30 minute episodes and a diverse line up of guests, The Appeal is great for those who want to learn about abolition gradually rather than all at once. While some episodes focus more on critiquing proposed reforms than abolition or alternatives, the entire series is worth a listen to get a holistic understanding of the criminal legal system. While host Adam Johnson does a great job of choosing topics and posing questions, the real pull of The Appeal are the reporters, activists, scholars, and formerly incarcerated individuals that share their stories and perspectives week after week.
Don’t let the webinar-style opening or the audio quality of this podcast turn you off. There are some real gems within this show explaining what restorative justice in communities can look like, although it may take some digging to find episodes that also address the criminal legal system. Restorative Justice on the Rise is one of the most comprehensive, albeit academic, resources on understanding the concept of restorative justice, with episodes spanning back to 2011. For those looking for what we will use in lieu of police and prisons, let this podcast serve as your introduction to a new way of addressing conflict and harm.
Beyond Prisons is another podcast that hits the sweet spot between humor and seriousness while discussing topics like inhumanity in prisons, abolitionist practices, and police violence. The podcast also stands out because of its emphasis in each episode on getting people involved. Episodes like “Instead of Calling the Police” and “Transformative Justice & Pod Mapping” focus on how to apply the abolitionist ideas and theories that are introduced. In that same vein, the guest list of Beyond Prisons is a resource in itself. There is much to learn from the social media accounts of hosts Kim Wilson and Brian Sonenstein, and the guests who are invited to talk about their academic and organizing work.
This community radio project based in Detroit is an excellent resource for learning about the connections between abolition and other social justice movements. The episodes weave together current events, lived experiences, and academic studies to paint an in-depth picture of the ways that incarceration affects all aspects of society. The most powerful episodes are those that focus on the ways that immigration is criminalized and the horrific realities facing those who are incarcerated. The content can veer towards the academic depending on the guests who are invited, but the information is well worth tuning in for.
The Abolition Suite is a collection of AirGo episodes interviewing “thought leaders who have been pushing an abolitionist future forward for decades.” This is especially important when social media has been providing very differing definitions and pictures of police abolition. The expertise of the guests ranges from transformative justice to gender-based violence to hyperlocal organizing, and an incredible breadth of content is covered across this four-hour series. Co-hosts Damon Williams and Daniel Kisslinger may not be well known, but both are skilled at digging deeper into the comments made by their guests and asking meaningful questions that help the listener gain a better understanding of abolition.
An independent production based in San Francisco, Prison Radio is one of the best podcasts for understanding the realities facing those who are incarcerated in the US. Rather than bringing in organizers and advocates who are working toward abolition from the outside, Prison Radio features interviews from incarcerated people and their families. It can be hard to fully understand how dehumanizing and cruel prisons are without hearing from those who have experienced incarcerated, which makes this podcast even more important. With each episode running being between two and five minutes, it’s easy to spend hours listening to the insightful and important words from the incarcerated guests of Prison Radio.
Deana Ayers is a political educator, organizer, and prison abolitionist. You can check out their thoughts on abolition and organizing on Twitter @deanajayers or read other articles they’ve written in their portfolio (deanajayers.com)