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 Editor:  Melissa Sweet – Croakey Health Media, Author:  Debbie Kilroy and Tabitha Lean

Introduction by Croakey: The National Network of Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women & Girls was established in 2020 to represent people who have been in prisons and to advocate for abolition of the prison industrial complex.

Below two of the network’s founding members, Debbie Kilroy and Tabitha Lean, say it is time to stop talking about reforming prisons and to start working for their complete abolition, including through funding community resources that prevent harm.

Debbie Kilroy and Tabitha Lean write:

In all our lives we get to a point where we have to draw lines in the sand.

Sometimes those lines are in the relationships we forge, and sometimes they are in the movements we occupy.

Many criminalised people struggle with drawing those lines. For many of us, our boundaries and lines haven’t been respected in our past – boundaries have been violated by people in our family, by organisations, or by the state.

We have, somewhere along the way, traversed society’s arbitrary lines of ‘good’, and ventured into the realm of ‘bad’. Most of us ‘criminals’ are considered so hopeless at keeping within these lines that we have spent whole lifetimes teetering along society’s edges of morality, tripping over the lines that the legal system lays out for us like trip wires, falling into their carefully laid traps, ensnared, and ultimately pushed into human warehouses for recalcitrant humans.

The formation of the National Network of Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women & Girls is a firm line in the sand.

It is a crucible moment for criminalised women, girls and gender diverse people across so-called Australia.

The National Network is setting the terms of engagement. We are determining the terms through which we seek freedom and emancipation from cages.

Our business, done our way.

About time, we say.

This country is filled with people who mean us harm, want to damn us to hell, or with do-gooders, or with people who are satisfied just to shave off the harder edges of the criminal punishment system and satisfy themselves with a reformist agenda which sees people still stuck in cages, albeit “nicer” ones.

So, the time has come to draw some firm lines in the sand.  And who better to do it than an organisation that consists ONLY of people who have seen the inside of a cage? Who better than a group of people driven by one agenda.


This is our line in the sand.

Dismantle, not reform

The National Network are unapologetically abolitionists. This means we want to dismantle the entire prison industrial complex, not just shave off some off its more grotesque flourishes to make it more ‘humane’. Our position means we will not allow reform to creep in as the compromise. We will run straight and demand the total annihilation of the carceral system as we know it now.

And we will not be wearing a jailing is failing t-shirt while we do the work.

In fact, we are tired of seeing those t-shirts in the wild.

Jailing is NOT failing. It is lazy and poor analysis to suggest it is, and entirely offensive to the people it harms with a deliberate and vicious hand, and with impunity. This phrase allows those who haven’t been criminalised to feel good about themselves, “the helper”, the “academic”, the “reformer”, those who believe that prisons are needed.

Jailing is working exactly how it was intended.

Read full article by Croakey Health Media here