Decolonizing incarcerated women’s identities through the lens of prison abolitionism




Criminological discourses among people of African descent globally continue to suffer from a crisis of application of Western explanatory frameworks with gross implications on the development of African centered epistemologies and frameworks. One of the central arguments in this paper is that criminological discourses, specifically on class-specific, racialized-gendered identities of incarcerated women, are not free of the colonial matrices of power that underpin imperialism. What will emerge in this article is that incarcerated women’s identities should be reconstructed as women’s criminalization continues to be framed and presented in monolithic law and order ways. A focus on reconstruction is important to decolonize women’s imprisonment by imperialist white supremacist particularly focusing on how their pluralistic identities, which often collude and collide, shape their trajectories in unpredictable and criss-crossing ways to subject them to criminalization. An analysis of case studies presented in this paper will reveal how women’s experiences of womanhood are shaped by race, gender and class which produce different forms of subjectivities and embodied selves. Reimagining such identities from a lens of the coloniality of being therefore seeks to move away from single-strand criminological discourses which fail to capture the subtle social forms of oppression and resistance. The underlying question therefore is how can incarcerated women’s identities be reconstructed to challenge the hegemony of the western canon in criminology? The paper is organised into four sections. A case for re-imagining incarcerated women’s identities is made. The second theme, coloniality of being as a conceptual framework, is introduced as an overarching framework. Being one of the pillars of the decolonial epistemic perspective, the coloniality of being frames the black women’s lived experiences in institutional settings. The paper concludes by making a case for rethinking of dominant criminological discourses in order to shift the bio-graphy of knowledge in criminology in Africa. We recommend the abolition of the colonial and apartheid fetish of prisons for women and men in South Africa.


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Author Biographies

Nontyatyambo Pearl Dastile, University of South Africa

Nontyatyambo Pearl Dastile is an Associate Professor in the Department of Criminology and Security Sciences at the University of South Africa. 

Biko Agozino, Virginia Tech

Biko Agozino is a Professor of Sociology and Africana Studies at Virginia Tech in the United States.






Research articles