This week, we celebrate the legacy of Nils Christie, who helped usher in the modern prison abolition movement. Christie passed away this last Wednesday at the age of 87.
As a sociologist and criminologist, Christie challenged the accepted notions of crime and the legitimacy of imprisonment throughout his career. Along with Thomas Mathiesen and Louk Hulsman, Christie was at the forefront of a tendency of European social scientists that pushed prison abolition into mainstream conversation. As he explains in an interview on crime:
“I hesitate to use the word ‘crime’, because in a way‘crime’ does not exist, it is just a social definition of certain unwanted acts…Look at family matters – teenagers often act in ways that, if it were outside the family, would be labelled as ‘crime’, but because it is inside, it’s just your son, who takes some money from the kitchen table or is hitting his brother.”
This simple, yet sharp, thinking is what we as abolitionists rely on when challenging imprisonment as a solution to social, interpersonal, and economic problems. As Critical Resistance puts this abolitionist vision into practice, we will remember Christie and his foundational contributions toward a world free of cages.