Prison Abolition as a Decolonial and Human Rights Imperative in Africa

58 Pages Posted: 8 Feb 2021

Date Written: October 29, 2020


Prisons are a cruel colonial import to Africa and yet have become entrenched in the public and legal imagination as the only way to combat crime. Their failure can be seen in the crime statistics that persevere despite prisons and the ways in which prisons have been weaponized by repressive African states to punish the poor, the queer and the opposition. Additionally, despite numerous attempts to reform prisons by the African human rights system, they remain sites of human rights violations. Theories on prison abolition can offer guidance to those wishing to rethink the criminal justice system according to African and human rights values, however much of this literature and activism is American centric. America’s experiences with settler colonization, slavery and segregation are crucial to its understanding of prison abolition. The African context adds new challenges, new perspectives and new justification for prison abolition that must be engaged with. This research aims to create a theory of prison abolition and restorative justice tailored to African history, context and values. It begins by criticizing prisons through a decolonial lens, explores the human rights critique of African prisons, details why reform is not sufficient and finally presents an African theory of abolition.

Keywords: Prisons, Prison Abolition, Prison Reform, Human Rights, Decolonization, Africa

JEL Classification: I30, Z18, K33

Suggested Citation

Surajpal, Sohela, Prison Abolition as a Decolonial and Human Rights Imperative in Africa (October 29, 2020). Available at SSRN: or

Sohela Surajpal (Contact Author)

University of Pretoria ( email )

Physical Address Economic and Management Sciences
Pretoria, Gauteng 0002
South Africa

Do you have negative results from your research you’d like to share?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics