Photograph from the first year of our program. 2015 

On Abolition

A statement from Performing Statistics on a future free of police, prisons, and all that holds us back

The country is waking up to the reality that abolition is not the far left's radical philosophy — but a tangible outcome that benefits everyone. And we're paying attention. All of the uprisings are lifting our spirits and unlocking our project’s natural evolution. Suddenly, communities at-large are embracing abolitionist ideas, and we must move with them.


We are based in Richmond, Virginia, a city with so much opportunity held back by the ghosts of the confederacy that still haunt us today. The community is fed up! To those who are taking the responsibility in their own hands to tear down the city’s racist statues, we are with you. This is something the city should have done long ago. To the thousands rising up in Richmond and cities across the country in support of Black lives, we are with you.


Calls to #DefundPolice and #FreeOurYouth are part of the same fight. We have said #PrisonsDontWork from the project’s beginning in 2014. We have known this similarity, and moving forward our messaging will reflect a bolder vision of a world free from police, prisons, and all systems of control. The work we are doing across all of our programs has always pointed us in that direction, and we are leaning in.


Resistance has been an undercurrent of our society since European colonizers first stepped foot on Indigenous land. And we cannot talk about the abolitionist movement today without recognizing and affirming organizations like Critical Resistance (founded in 1998) and The Movement for Black Lives (founded in 2014). They have carried the torch of a long legacy of abolitionist organizing, along with many other grassroots initiatives including Southerners on New Ground and the newly formed #8toAbolition


What do we mean when we say abolition?

We recognize abolition invokes a strong emotional response regardless of how a person views the term. At the word’s core, abolition means a world free from systems of criminalization, surveillance, and control. Abolition believes it is possible to build a world that centers human values. Our current systems continue to wreak havoc on communities of color, communities experiencing poverty, and others who do not fit into the dominant status quo, including people with disabilities and the LGBTQIA community. Abolition requires us to face our past legacies and dismantle systems built on colonialism, slavery, and disinvestment. These systems divide — rather than unite — us. Abolition affirms our humanity and asks that we co-create a world based on healing, compassion, trust, and equity. 


What does a just world look like?

As a project that seeks to create a world without youth prisons, we will continue to look for answers from the youth whom our justice system impacts the most. They consistently ask for greater investments in housing, education, community centers, and jobs; and to stay with their families, take care of their parents, and pursue higher education. They feel trapped in the cycles of systemic racism that the system perpetuates, and they yearn for freedom. They want city officials and elected leaders to truly listen to them and make decisions accordingly.


Our law enforcement agencies and justice systems:


  • Tear families apart

  • Prey upon Black and Brown communities and the poor

  • Prioritize revenge over restoration

  • Uphold vastly different measures of accountability for white communities as compared to communities of color

  • Siphon resources away from valuable and sustainable investments in communities


This does not work for anyone in our society, including those whose jobs are to protect and uphold these systems. As the organizers of #8toAbolition explain, abolition is “a world without police, where no one is held in a cage, and all people thrive and be well.” 


Continuing Our Mission

We have an unwavering commitment to new possibilities. Our programming is rooted in this vision of justice, and we will continue to:


  • Model an evidence-based creative youth development program for youth impacted by the justice system

  • Model a community-based reentry program that supports a young person’s successful transition into adulthood

  • Co-create cultural organizing strategies with youth across the country to imagine and advocate for alternatives to youth incarceration

  • Tour our national exhibition #NoKidsinPrison


This summer, informed by six years of work with youth, we will also announce a policy platform that outlines our vision for a world without youth prisons.


Ending Our Police Training Initiative

Moving forward, we have decided to formally end one program: our police training initiative for the Richmond Police Department. Since 2006, we have trained more than 150 recruits and in-service officers on a variety of topics related to youth development and incarceration’s impact on families. The training was successful and received the attention of the Center for Performance and Civic Practice, PolicyLink’s Arts, Culture, and Equitable Development Initiative, and the Community Resource Hub. The initiative was also spotlighted in the Municipal-Artists Partnerships guide jointly created by A Blade of Grass and Animating Democracy. We were set to conduct trainings for 250 officers later this year.


We are proud of what we accomplished. But, we recognize that training police does not serve or support our mission. We can better use our creative energy to fully support our young people’s vision for a world free from police and prisons.


To this goal, we will center youth voices in the abolition conversation by doing the following:


  • Divest and reallocate our police-training funds to support our #NoKidsinPrison exhibition

  • Partner with local and national organizing initiatives that support community-led policy change efforts that address policing and prisons

  • Create an interactive website as a companion experience for our national touring exhibition that allows us to showcase youth voices in the Covid-19 environment

  • Develop a series of training modules that outline how we move away from all aspects of our current system


At Performing Statistics, the belief in and fight for freedom has always been our North Star. We will no longer compromise on our efforts and vision. In the spirit of Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Maggie L. Walker, and all of the abolitionists who came before us, we are answering the call.


With a love for each other and our humanity,

Performing Statistics staff