Beyond the Penal Colony: Prison Abolition in Australia

Mary Kelly1
1RMIT University, Melbourne, VIC

The Prison Abolition movement seems to constantly hold a strong but fleeting moment in the spotlight of incarceration debates within Australia. The literature demonstrates that while many academics are discussing strategies such as penal reform, the conversation regarding abolition is underutilised. This becomes even more apparent when viewed against abolitionist literature of other nations such as the United Kingdom and America, where a distinct link can be drawn between the historic work of activists and the modern call for abolition. The aim of this research is to shed light on the prison abolition movement within Australia and to bring necessary attention to the works being conducted on our home shore. The focal point of this research will be interviews conducted with leading members of the movement across the nation, detailing not only where they want the movement to go, but also it’s history and inherent challenges. Further, I hope to briefly explore the volatile relationship between reform and abolition and the impact it has on abolitionist thinking and public perception. Throughout my research I will reference international literature with a focus on the movement of the United States, framing the potential for the Australian movement. It is my hope that this research will expand the current debate regarding incarceration in Australia and that abolitionist perspectives may join the mainstream conversation.


Mary Kelly is currently completing her Honours year of Criminology at RMIT University looking in to the prison abolition movement within Australia. She has previously volunteered with the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service as well as the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, assisting individuals who are or have been detained or imprisoned within Australia.


The society is devoted to promoting criminological study, research and practice in the region and bringing together persons engaged in all aspects of the field. The membership of the society reflects the diversity of persons involved in the field, including practitioners, academics, policy makers and students.

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