Prison Abolition Symposium

Women, Punishment and Prison Abolition:
How gender Structures the Prison System

In Commemoration of
International Women’s Day

Brock University
Pond Inlet in McKenzie Chown Complex
MARCH 6, 2017 | 9 AM – 5 PM

Join ex-prisoners, academics, activists, artists and health care workers for discussion and strategies toward the abolition of the prison industrial complex in this March 6 pre-International Women’s Day event.

In honour of International Women’s Day (March 8), “A Symposium for Women, Punishment and Prison Abolition: How gender Structures the Prison System” (March 6) draws on Angela Davis’ observation that gender is at the heart of structuring the prison industrial complex. With the incarceration of women and gender non-conforming persons statistically outpacing that of men, the 21st century is continuing an upward trend that started in the late 1980s. While women and gender non-conforming persons are 5 percent of all prisoners in Canada, their numbers are growing. Among other issues, this leads to overcrowding, underfunding of in-prison health resources, low emphasis on in-prison programs and pre-release planning, high recidivism due to under-resourced post-release programs, and, negative impacts for women’s families and communities.

Historically women are punished more harshly, longer and generally for less serious criminal offences than men. Around the world women and gender non-conforming persons are principally punished for violating capitalist and patriarchal norms. They are increasingly casualties in the so-called war on drugs and the criminalization of sex work. Women and gender non-conforming persons warehoused in prisons are almost without exception poor, excluded from formal education, survivors of abuse and sexual assault, persons ‘of colour’, overmedicated and suffer from emotional disturbance and post-traumatic stress disorder. Every major commentary and report on prisons and punitive vengeance the past 800 years and more, demonstrate the principal metric of success is spectacular failure. It is time to de-prison society and expand human liberation with alternative strategies and inclusive conversations that rethink punitive justice.

To reduce and eliminate the social and psychological brutality normalized by incarceration and punitive vengeance, the prison abolition movement seeks to: 1) generating awareness of the harms of incarceration through research and stories, 2) as an interim measure, advocate for reforms that reduce the harshness of the prison regime, 3) support pre and post-release transition, 4) develop creative strategies for socializing conflict resolution and reducing engagement with the criminal industrial complex, 5) reduce to a bare minimum the number of prisons in the social landscape and in our collective consciousness, 6) abolish the so-called war on drugs, 7) resist and abolish ableism, classism, homophobia, racism, sexism and all other forms of oppression, 8) transfer investments from the war and criminal industrial complexes into a socially just and environmentally sustainable existence and 9) develop an inclusionary, human-centred, non-punitive and non-stigmatizing vocabulary for harm and injury.

Symposium schedule

8:00 am – 9:00 am


9:00 am – 9:30 am

Opening remarks

Symposium coalition organizer introduction
Carol Jacobs, Elder-in-Residence at Brock – Indigenous welcome
Anna Lathrop, Vice-provost, Teaching/learning & Student Success

9:30 am – 10:45 am

Panel 1 — Gender and Sexualities: Inside and outside prisons

Akio MaroonMaggie’s Toronto Sex Workers Action Project
Alex AndrewsSWOP Behind Bars
Kusha Amir Dadui – Sherbourne Health Centre
Tanja Steinbach – Three Fires Community Justice Program, Niagara Regional Native Centre

10:45 am – 11:00 am


11:00 am – 12:15 am

Panel 2 — Health, criminalization and prison

Lorraine Pinnock – Walls to Bridges
Lindsay Jennings – PASAN
Natasha Brien – SOSOLO

12:15 am – 1:15 pm


1:15 PM – 2:30 PM

Panel 3 — The arts and abolition: moving beyond institutionalization

Faith Nolan – Activist, singer and songwriter
Huronia Speakers Bureau
Erin Howley – Artist and independent researcher

2:30 PM – 2:45 PM


2:45 PM – 4:00 PM

Walls to Bridges experiential workshop

Walls to Bridges, Toronto Collective

4:00 PM – 4:30 PM

Closing remarks

Joan Rusza – Rittenhouse

4:30 PM – 5:00 PM

Networking session

Generously supported by:

Brock University Faculty Association
CUPE — 4207
MA in Critical Sociology
MA in Social Justice and Equity Studies
Social Justice Research Institute
Student Justice Centre
Women and Gender Studies