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From Data Criminalization to Prison Abolition

How do we organize resistance against the growing number of ways that data is used to reinforce and expand criminalization? Join abolitionist thinkers and organizers connecting the dots between surveillance capitalism, border imperialism, and neoliberal prison reform.

A dominant mode of our time, data analysis and prediction are part of a longstanding historical process of racial and national profiling, management and control in the US. In a new report, From Data Criminalization to Prison Abolition (available here)Community Justice Exchange examines the interlocked machineries of migrant surveillance and describes processes of “data criminalization:” the creation, archiving, theft, resale and analysis of datasets that mark some of us as threats and risks, based on data culled about us from state and commercial sources.

As all facets of daily life become datafied, governments and corporations work together formally and extra-legally to instrumentalize the most mundane and revealing data sets created about us. As these surveillance systems expand from formally criminalized spaces like prisons and detention centers to encompass less-carceral and non-carceral spaces like parking lots and personal cell phones, the technologies themselves also become more aggressive, utilizing mood prediction, behavior control and relationship-mapping practices rather than simple data cross-checking to criminal legal records.

How might we fight data criminalization on our terms? Rather than being drawn into arguments about privacy, accuracy, or the theatrics of consumer consent and regulatory oversight, we assert that these datasets are inherently illegitimate, and creation and use of them should be abolished. What if we organized our resistance based on that premise?



J. Khadijah Abdurahman is an abolitionist whose research focus is predictive analytics in the US child welfare system and the Horn of Africa. They are the founder of We Be Imagining, a public interest technology project at Columbia University’s INCITE Center and The American Assembly’s Democracy and Trust Program. WBI draws on the Black radical tradition to develop public technology through infusing academic discourse with the performance arts in partnership with community based organizations.

Jacinta González is a senior campaign organizer with Mijente and leads their #NoTechforICE campaign. Previously, she worked at PODER in México, organizing the Río Sonora River Basin committees against water contamination by the mining industry. Jacinta was the lead organizer for the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice Congress of Day Laborers (2007-2014). In Louisiana Gonzalez helped establish a base of day laborers and undocumented families dedicated to building worker power, advancing racial justice, and organizing against deportations in post-Katrina New Orleans.

Sarah T. Hamid (she/her/no preference) is an abolitionist and organizer working in the Pacific Northwest. She leads the policing technology campaign at the Carceral Tech Resistance Network: an archiving and knowledge sharing network for organizers building community defense against the design, roll-out, and experimentation of carceral technologies. Sarah co-founded the inside/outside research collaboration, the Prison Tech Research Group, and helped create the #8toAbolition campaign—a police and prison abolition resource built during last summer’s uprisings against state violence.

Puck Lo (she/they) is the Research Director of Community Justice Exchange, an abolitionist organization that supports organizers to fight all forms of incarceration and social control. They spent the last year examining Department of Homeland Security's data regimes and other expanding systems of corporeal theft and predictive criminalization.

Harsha Walia (moderator) is the author of Border and Rule and Undoing Border Imperialism and an organizer rooted in migrant justice, abolitionist, antiracist, feminist, anti-imperialist, and anticapitalist movements for over two decades.


This event is sponsored by Community Justice Exchange, Tech Workers CoalitionWe Be Imagining, Carceral Tech Resistance NetworkMijenteand Haymarket Books.