Decarceration in the #Philly Region – Where to Start?

This comic, called "World without Prisons," depicts two frames. Frame one shows pieces of prison walls dangling from cranes by large chains. In the center of the frame is the thought bubble, "I don't know what a world without prisons will look like." In the second frame, there are eight individuals of different races, genders, ethnicities, and abilities with the thought bubble, "But it will fundamentally transform our relationship with other people."

Illustration from who’s left — Mariame/Prison Abolition by Flynn Nicholls.

Big Question: 

How could we possibly claim a more just, inclusive, sustainable Philadelphia when the city and region have some of the highest rates of incarceration in the world? And knowing that, how can I get involved in decarceration networks?

Time Commitment: 45 – 60 minutes

Personal Reflection: How does your political voice relate to mass incarceration?

Why This Matters:

Philadelphia and Pennsylvania have some of the highest rates of incarceration in the world.

Diving In, Part 1:

“Often when people ask “how can I get involved?” I respond with “do what it is you’re good at”— that is, if your thing is data, figure out how to contribute those skills to a cause. If you’re a writer, lend your words to the struggle. If you’re good at cooking, feed the people. Revolutionaries certainly need full bellies to keep up the fight. I say this to emphasize everyone isn’t skilled at the same things, and the work wouldn’t be dynamic or sustainable if we were. We each can and should offer our particular skills to the collective pursuit of liberty and justice for all.” – Stephanie Keene in Kneel, donate, or burn it all down? Decarceration and 5 types of justice work

Take twelve and a half minutes to read the 1600 word article, Kneel, donate, or burn it all down? Decarceration and 5 types of justice work

Reflection Questions – Kneel, Donate, or Burn it all down?

  1. What about this piece resonates with you?
  2. Where can you draw connections between this framing of decarceration and the work you are interested in and/or have been doing?

Diving in, Part 2:

Listen to Former prisoners sue to end ‘prison gerrymandering’ in Pa for 12 minutes, then watch this three-minute video:

The Enduring Myth of Black Criminality

We began these modules with a definition of global citizenship that asserted the importance of considering contemporary and historic systems of oppression. History and oppression interface with dominant cultural discourse to create our language use and sense of “normal” – another instance of cultural and structural violence. As Keene’s article reminds us, activists and artists can disrupt “normal” to move us toward recognizing the obligations that every human has to every other human.

Personal Reflection or Pair-Share:

  1. How does Keene’s article expand your understanding of how it’s possible to get involved with decarceration work in the Philly region? What if anything might you add?
  2. How do the video and audio pieces above deepen your understanding of mass incarceration / decarceration as a historic and contemporary, multifaceted, structural issue? And how does that understanding affect your thinking regarding how to work toward greater justice?

Page Completion – Outcomes:

Now that you have completed this page and the readings, videos, and activities within it, you should have strengthened your understanding of: 

  • How to get involved in decarceration and abolitionist work in the Philly region;
  • How history and contemporary structures create and reinforce the injustices of mass incarceration.

Please share feedback on this page by taking this 5-question survey. Thank you!

Next: A deeper dive into the specifics of structural racism in the Philly region.

Bonus Round: Eastern State Penitentiary is an extraordinary historic site and location of public scholarship. Check out the webpage for compelling visuals of this unique location in the Fairmount Neighborhood of Philadelphia, along with regularly updated links to news and resources in the battle to stop mass incarceration. The video below highlights some of their work.

Further Reading

Citation for this page: Keene, S. (2020). Decarceration in the #Philly region – Where to start? In E. Hartman (Ed.). Interdependence: Global Solidarity and Local Actions. The Community-based Global Learning Collaborative. Retrieved from


Keene, S. (2019, September 3). Kneel, donate, or burn it all down? Decarceration and 5 types of justice work. Retrieved May 7, 2020, from

Podcasts and pieces cited within the podcasts:

WHYY (Producer). (2020, March 2). Former prisoners sue to end ‘prison gerrymandering’ in Pa. [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from

Videos and pieces cited within the videos:

ALL ARTS TV. (2020, April 29). On Display: How museums are tackling America’s mass incarceration problem [Video file]. YouTube. Retrieved from

The Atlantic. (2015, September 14). The Enduring Myth of Black Criminality [Video file]. Retrieved from