Women Against Prison: Anti-carceral Feminist Critiques of the Prison

  • Bree Carlton
  • Emma K. Russell


This chapter focuses on Women Against Prison (WAP), a grassroots feminist activist group that formed in Melbourne in the mid-1980s to organise against women’s increasing criminalisation and imprisonment. Tracking the internal dynamics and politics of WAP against the broader context of a burgeoning and diverse feminist movement in Australia, this chapter explores how feminist activists built a critique of the prison as part of a continuum of gender violence that spanned interpersonal and institutional realms. WAP activists developed politicised connections with imprisoned women and emphasised the prison’s role in sustaining intersecting gender, race and class oppressions. They sought to place women’s prison issues squarely on a broader feminist social change agenda. WAP also raised questions about the legitimacy of women’s imprisonment itself. By fomenting an abolitionist vision for women and promoting decarceration through broad-based social and policy change, WAP’s public education and coalitional organising efforts provide a window through which to explore the challenges and potential of feminist forms of anti-carceral activism. The mixed perspectives and positions held by WAP members about how to respond to men’s violence against women and children shed light on the difficulties associated with cleaving politics from emotions. This diversity also reveals the emotional effects of a long history of state sanctioning and neglect of gender violence; and the ways in which the prison has become psychically embedded within our culture, structuring our worldview, even among those aware of its inherent violence.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Criminology, School of Humanities and Social SciencesDeakin UniversityMelbourneAustralia
  2. 2.Crime, Justice and Legal Studies, School of Humanities and Social SciencesLa Trobe UniversityMelbourneAustralia

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