Breaking Bars, Building Bridges:
Challenging the Prison System & Fostering Communities of Support
Friday February 10 – Sunday February 12, 2012
In spite of widespread opposition, the statement made by two provinces (Ontario and Quebec) that they will refuse to pay – and even the warnings of the state of Texas – Canada’s Bill C-10, the Conservative Omnibus Crime Bill, is poised to become law by March 16, 2012. The bill will institute sweeping changes that will produce more crime and more prisoners, just in time to fill the super-prisons scheduled for construction across the country.
Meanwhile, grassroots activists continue to be criminalized in their fight for justice. After 18 months living under severely restrictive bail conditions, six anti-G20 activists from communities across the province were sentenced on November 22nd, 2011 to serve time in jail. Their charges stemmed from their political organizing. Still yet, marginalized communities continue to be targeted on a daily basis by the policing and prison apparatus. Police murders continue across the continent with impunity, and police brutality remains a daily reality within and outside prison walls.
As we struggle for a just world, one without oppression or inhumanity, where the earth is respected and all are free, we must realize that the context of our work is changing. Harper’s agenda will see an escalation in the criminalization of dissent, activism, and direct action. As social supports for the poor continue to evaporate under neoliberal attacks, more members of our community will end up behind bars, even as global resistance to the austerity agenda continues to mount. And while the government and corporations continue to pillage indigenous lands and suppress community self-determination, Aboriginal people make up a massively disproportionate segment of the prison population.
In the spirit of solidarity, WPIRG invites all community-based activists, people impacted by the prison system, communities and supporters of prisoners, and anyone who sees value in gathering to resist the institution, to join us in our 2012 School of Public Interest, which will focus on challenging criminalization, supporting prisoners, and building alternatives.
Our goal is to provide a space for in-depth conversation of prison justice and abolition, opportunities for networking and strategizing, and a radical education venue geared towards sharing knowledge, skills, and tools to further our everyday activism and integrate prison justice into our different struggles. We especially hope to strengthen a southern Ontario network that can effectively coordinate local grassroots mobilizations against prison expansion and criminalization over the coming years. Travel subsidies are available. Please contact us for more information on them.

We welcome individuals and organizations to submit proposals for workshops, discussions, and trainings. We are very interested in disseminating practical skills and tools, and also encourage non-expert driven discussions which ask questions to stimulate discussion – this means we value the voices and experiences of prisoners, their families, friends, and communities, and refuse to limit ourselves to a narrow definition of “activist” or “expert.” In your proposal, please include a paragraph explaining the topic, a brief description of the format (lecture, participatory workshop, facilitated discussion, etc), and the desired outcome or goal of your session.
Please submit proposals to by Thursday January 5, 2012. And please stay tuned for more information!

Possible Discussion Themes:
  • the impact of bill C-10 and harper’s criminal agenda
  • strategies for resistance to prison expansion
  • the criminalization of dissent
  • supporting prisoner activism
  • political prisoners on turtle island/north america
  • criminalization of people without status and refugees
  • intersections between the struggle against the prison-industrial complex and fighting other systems of oppression (e.g. feminism; anti-racism; indigenous sovereignty/decolonization; migrant justice; disability justice; environmental justice; anti-poverty)
  • restorative justice / transformative justice / alternatives to incarceration
  • political vs. social incarceration
  • sharing skills and organizational models (e.g. copwatching, letter-writing, book drives, noise demos, campaigning)
  • police/prison abuses and seeking justice
  • working for reform from an analysis of abolition
  • prisoner support & solidarity
  • social construction of crime
  • radical, or anarchist, criminology
  • prison expansion & capitalism
  • gender-based experiences of incarceration
  • “mainstreaming” and engaging the public on prison justice and abolition
  • creative expressions of resistance