UC Santa Cruz awards prison abolitionists for 'societal impact'

Self-described 'abolitionist feminist' Gina Dent argues that eliminating prisons would ensure a 'transformed society' that 'would also rid us of many of these other social ills.'

'Visualizing Abolition' is a 'public scholarship initiative' that promotes a 'future free of prisons.'

On June 2, the University of California, Santa Cruz announced that prison abolitionists Gina Dent and Rachel Nelson were among the recipients of the Chancellor’s Innovation Impact Award.

The Innovation Impact Awards Program contains three categories: Innovator of the Year, Lifetime Achievement in Innovation, and Community Changemaker. Dent and Nelson received the Innovator of the Year honor.

This award “recognizes faculty and associated project teams that may include staff and students for their work on innovations that, in the past 12 months, have resulted in a demonstrated societal impact or have reached a key milestone that positions the innovations for near-term societal impact.”

The project for which Dent and Nelson have received the award is Visualizing Abolitiona “public scholarship initiative” that envisions a society liberated from the prison system. The goal of this project is to “change the narrative that links prisons to justice, contributing instead to the unfolding collective story and alternative imagining underway to create a future free of prisons.”

[RELATED: Berkeley student government calls prison labor ‘modern slavery’]

The initiative is composed of art exhibitions, events and workshops, and postdoctoral fellowships, among other features. 

“Despite taking place during the height of the pandemic, the attendance included an impressive number of first-time visitors to the museum,” the school said of one of the exhibits. Housed at the San Jose Museum of Art, Barring Freedom was displayed from October 2020 until June 1, 2021. 

Barring Freedom features works which aim to challenge the dominant ways people see and understand the complex nexus of policing, surveillance, detention, and imprisonment that makes up the nation’s prison industrial complex,” reads the description of the art exhibition.

The initiative also includes other projects like Solitary Garden, a model of a six-by-nine-foot solitary confinement cell surrounded by a garden designed by Timothy James Young, a San Quentin State Prison death row inmate who is “fighting to prove his innocence in the California appellate court system.”

[RELATED: University obtains artwork by convicted cop-killer to ‘advance research on incarceration’]

Young has been incarcerated since 1999 for allegedly carrying out an “execution-style” massacre at a bar. 

During an interview with Harper’s Bazaar, Dent responded to a question about prison abolition potentially endangering victims of violence by stating that abolishing prisons would end these societal problems altogether.

“A part of what we’re talking about, and that abolitionist feminists have been talking about from the beginning, is really that the work we would do to end incarceration would also end those forms of violence,” Dent stated.

“In other words, by attending to interpersonal violence and sexual violence simultaneously, the work of building a different and transformed society would also rid us of many of these other social ills,” she added.

Campus Reform has reached out to all individuals and entities for comment and will update accordingly.