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WGST 3550 Prison Abolition: History, Theory and Practice: Home

Prof. Nadja Eisenberg-Guyot


Nadja Eisenberg-GuyotInstructor:
Nadja Eisenberg-Guyot (they/them),
Ph.D. Candidate, Cultural Anthropology,
CUNY Grad Center


Office hours: If you would like to schedule office hours, please email me and we can find a time to talk via Zoom, Google Hangout, or telephone.


Syllabus spelled out in wood blocks on books

Download a word copy of WGST 3550 Syllabus Fall 2020

Course Information

As mass uprisings against state violence have continued unabated since the police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and Rayshard Brooks, bipartisan consensus has coalesced around the need to end mass incarceration and reform prisons and policing. Simultaneously, the revolutionary movement to abolish prisons and policing entirely has gained momentum (again), drawing on a lineage of Black freedom struggles, from the movement to abolish slavery to Black Lives Matter. Yet, many are unfamiliar with prison abolition or concerned about its impacts on their safety. In this course, students will engage with the contemporary prison abolition movement as both a vision for the future and a concrete set of strategies to create safety and undo incarceration in the present. With New York City experiencing a resurgence in brutal broken windows policing while the city is poised to build four new jails over the next six years (and maybe shut down the notorious Rikers Island jail complex), this course will provide Black feminist insight into a contemporary political fight with profound consequences for the lives of working class communities of color in NYC.

Note: This class is asynchronous, meaning that there are no formal class meeting times. Students can participate in optional Zoom-based discussion sessions once a week.

  1. To put contemporary mass incarceration in historic, political, and cultural context. By the end of this course, students will be able to answer questions such as: what is the relationship between incarceration and enslavement? Why does the US have one of the highest incarceration rates in the world? Do prisons reduce crime? Are prisons rehabilitative?
  2. To use Black feminist theory to interrogate the relationship between prisons and race, gender, and class oppression in the US.
  3. To understand the contemporary prison abolition movement and learn how to engage in independent social scientific research.
  4. To develop a practical understanding of restorative justice, transformative justice, and mediation, which students can begin to use in their own lives to reduce conflict and transform harm.
  1. Reading, listening, and watching (20% of final grade) : Students will read assigned course materials, listen to audio lectures, and watch videos covering key concepts in the prison abolition movement.
  2. Response papers (25% of final grade): Students will write one, 3-4 page response papers, on any single unit of their choosing, addressing a minimum of two assigned or suggested texts, lectures, or videos for that unit.
    Submit here:
  3. Temperature checks (25% of final grade): Students will record 2 minute audio clips responding to a question posed at the end
    of each recorded lecture (and included on the syllabus next to the notation “record”).
    Submit here:
  4. Collaborative final project (30% of final grade): Students will work in small groups and then as an entire class with the professor’s support to produce a zine about prison abolition and transformative justice practices and resources for the Brooklyn College student body.
    Submit here:

Descriptions of all assignments, grading rubrics, and where to submit assignments are located in this Google Drive Folder:

Pre-Recorded Lectures (where it says “listen” in the syllabus) will be posted in this Google Drive Folder:

All readings and videos will be posted on our course website at

Optional Zoom Discussion Sessions: Students can participate in optional one-hour Zoom-based discussions of course materials and any other topics related to prison abolition.

Tentative Lecture Schedule
Date Topic


8/31-9/6 The Origins of the American Prison
9/7-9/13 Crime, Criminology, and Policing: A Brief History
9/14-9/20 The Myth of the Gender-Responsive Prison
9/21-9/27 Recidivism, Rehabilitation and Punishment: Do prisons actually “respond” to harm?
9/28-10/4 Are Prisons Obsolete?
10/5-10/11 Prison Rebellions, a Brief History
10/12-10/18 Prison Abolition and trans/gender liberation
10/19-10/25 Movement Histories
10/26-11/1 Rejecting Rehabilitation
11/2-11/8 “Care Not Cages”: No New LA Jail
11/9-11/15 Communities Over Cages: Shut the Jail ATL
11/16-11/22 No Cop Academy Chicago
11/23-11/29 No Class this week
11/30-12/6 Shut Down Rikers
12/7-12/13 Abolition Dreams

Helpful Information on Accessing Resources Remotely

To access some items you need to login with your Brooklyn College ID and others you will need to enter a password given to you by your professor.

The following icons will let you know what you will need to do to access the items. 

If an item has no icon, then you don't need to do anything to access it.

Off-campus iconOff-campus access. You will be prompted to enter your Brooklyn College ID and login.

Password protected iconPassword protected item.  You will be prompted to enter the password given to you by your Professor.

Need assistance with off-campus access? Go to the library's Library Remote Access page for assistance and instructions.

The Brooklyn College Library's electronic resources (e.g. journals, ebooks, databases, etc.) are available to registered students, faculty, and staff when off-campus, including while abroad. If you would like to connect from off-campus, you will need to login.

Brooklyn College remote access login page screen grab.


  • User ID = your 8-digit CUNY EmpID
  • Password format = FLMM/DD/YY
    • FL = your CUNYfirst official First and Last initials (upper case)
    • MM/DD/YY = your 6-digit birthday with the SLASHES

Example: If your name is Jalil Doe and your birthday is November 21, 1998, your password would be JD11/21/98


Use your BC email user name (before the @) and password

If you need further assistance with off-campus access go to the library's Ask a Librarian page or the Library Remote Access pages.


Free New York Times Digital subscription

Several articles for this course are from the New York Times.  All CUNY members are eligible and encouraged to sign up for a free CUNY New York Times digital account. The CUNY account entitles all people with email to acquire a subscription to the digital NYTimes. Once an account is created, access is available from anywhere with a NYTimes login.

Anyone who initiates an account will have an active subscription for one year from the date she/he creates the account. If  you already have an annual subscription to the NYTimes, you can cancel it and will receive a refund. However, if you only have a monthly subscription, the New York Times will not issue a refund for that month.
To sign-up for an account go to: Welcome to The New York Times page

CUNY Policies

The Center for Student Disability Services is working remotely at this time.  Please email them at for assistance.

Students should inform the professor if they have a disability or any other situation that may require Section 504/ADA accommodations.  The faculty and staff will attempt to work out whatever arrangements are necessary.

Please provide me with your course accommodation form and discuss your specific accommodation with me as soon as possible to ensure accommodations are met in a timely fashion.

In order to receive academic accommodations students must first be registered with the Center for Student Disability Services. Students who have a documented disability or who suspect that they might have a disability are invited to set up an appointment with the Director of the Center for Student Disability Services, Ms. Valerie Stewart-Lovell or the Assistant Director, Josephine Patterson or their general email

  • The faculty and administration of Brooklyn College support an environment free from cheating and plagiarism.
  • Each student is responsible for being aware of what constitutes cheating and plagiarism and for avoiding both.
  • View complete text of CUNY Academic Integrity Policy and Brooklyn College procedure for policy implementation.
  • If a faculty member suspects a violation of academic integrity and, upon investigation, confirms that violation, or if the student admits the violation, the faculty member must report the violation.
  • Please read the section entitled “Academic Regulations and Procedures” in the Brooklyn College Undergraduate Bulletin or Graduate Bulletin for a complete listing of academic regulations of the College.

Bereavement Policy:

  • Students who experience the death of a loved one must contact the Division of Student Affairs, 2113 Boylan Hall, if they wish to implement either the Standard Bereavement Procedure or the Leave of Absence Bereavement Procedure. The Division of Student Affairs has the right to request a document that verifies the death (e.g., a funeral program or death notice). Contact Email:
  • Typically, this death involves that of a family member, in parallel to the bereavement policy for faculty and staff. However, it is up to the discretion of the Division of Student Affairs to determine if a death outside of the immediate family warrants implementation of the student bereavement policy.
  •  As an option, and in consultation with the Division of Student Affairs, students may take the Leave of Absence Bereavement after the Standard Bereavement.
  • Reference to the Student Bereavement Policies will be noted on course syllabi.
  • Students requesting a religious accommodation should contact the Division of Student Affairs as well. The chief student affairs officer, or a designee, and the student will engage in an interactive process with the goal of finding an acceptable accommodation.

Bereavement Procedure:

  • Upon approval from the Division of Student Affairs, the student is allowed one week, commencing from the day of notification to the Division of Student Affairs, of excused absence.
  • Should the student feel that he/she needs additional days, these should be discussed with individual course instructors and/or the Division of Student Affairs.
  • The Division of Student Affairs will contact the student’s faculty and academic staff of the student’s courses.
  • Faculty and academic staff will be advised that extensions must be granted to the student for the period of one week of excused absence.
  • Further extensions may be negotiated with the student when he or she returns to campus.
  • Students are encouraged to discuss options with their instructors.

Leave of Absence Bereavement Procedure:

  • Students may be allowed to withdraw from the semester in which the death occurs.
  • The Bereavement Leave of Absence is for one semester only.
  • Students who have opted to take the Bereavement Leave of Absence and have already attended classes for the semester of the leave will be allowed to re-enter the following semester without having to reapply to the college.
  • Students who wish to take the leave of absence prior to the beginning of the semester will be required to reapply for the following semester.
  • Students who are in good academic standing will be given the opportunity to successfully complete the credits for the semester in which they return.
  • Students will consult with the Division of Student Affairs, on a case-by-case basis, as to whether they should withdraw from their courses during this leave of absence or to request incompletes from the faculty member.
  •  Given that there may be a potential impact on financial aid, students who receive financial aid and who take the Bereavement Leave of Absence, upon arrangement with the Division of Student Affairs, will meet with a financial aid adviser prior to taking this option.
  • The New York State Education Law provides that no student shall be expelled or refused admission to an institution of higher education because he or she is unable to attend classes or participate in examinations or study or work requirements on any particular day or days because of religious beliefs.
  • Students who are unable to attend classes on a particular day or days because of religious beliefs will be excused from any examination or study or work requirements.
  • Faculty must make good-faith efforts to provide students absent from class because of religious beliefs equivalent opportunities to make up the work missed; no additional fees may be charged for this consideration.
  • If classes, examinations, or study or work requirements occur on Friday after 4 p.m. or on Saturday, similar or makeup classes, examinations, or study or work requirements will be made available on other days, where possible and practical.
  • The faculty and the administration will not allow any adverse or prejudicial effects to accrue to students availing themselves of this regulation.
  • If students have complaints about the application of this policy, they are entitled to bring action or a proceeding for enforcement of their rights in the Supreme Court of Kings County
Number-letter grade equivalents
Numerical grade Letter Grade
97-100 A+
93-96.9 A
90-92.9 A-
87-89.9 B+
83-86.9 B
80-82.9 B-
77-79.9 C+
73-76.9 C
70-72.9 C-
67-69.9 D+
63-66.9 D
60-62.9 D-
Below 60 F