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In-Depth Interview: Co-Authors Maya Schenwar and Victoria Law Re-Imagine Prisons

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Do criminal justice “reforms” like home confinement, mandatory reporting, community policing and lockdown drug treatment actually work?Maya Schenwar, editor-in-chief of and Victoria Law, a writer and prison activist, are co-authors of Prison By Any Other Name: The Harmful Consequences of Popular Reforms.  They examine so-called “reforms” that exact Biblical punishment through alternate means, often outside the prison/jail environment.

As police violence against Black men and the millions of protesters who’ve taken to the streets in 2020 have led to some serious consideration of re-imagining police and their duties, Schenwar and Law are at the forefront of re-imagining or even abolishing prisons as we know them today.  They reject the retribution and punishment model in favor of addressing individual needs and the underlying causes of crime.

We discuss how home confinement with electronic monitoring shifts the location of punishment while imposing prison-like confinement that rarely promotes rehabilitation or major change in the person.  Much of the monitoring is managed by private firms, and the detainee pays as much as $115 a week–even though most of them can’t work and don’t have other income or savings.

We talk about mandatory drug treatment programs that feel like a prison environment, and that are rarely effective because of the coercive nature of participation.  We touch on many other aspects of our carceral state, like probation, mandated reporting of domestic violence and child abuse, and other issues.  And we talk about the elements for community accountability processes, a variation on restorative justice.