DeCarceral Futures:
Towards a New Vision of Immigrant Justice

How do we govern migration without detention?

Immigration detention can be understood as a country’s often-indefinite incarcerations of people who have not committed any crimes but who are suspected to have broken immigration rules. Despite legal strictures that civil detention must be non-punitive, non-arbitrary, and a last resort, detention is experiencing a meteoric and global spread and normalization. While most liberal, democratic countries legislated immigration detention only as recently as the 1970s, all are now producing laws and policies to expand the legal grounds to detain.

Scholarship is overly focussed on untangling detention’s relationships with popular perceptions connecting crime to racialized immigrants, their children, and people who ‘look like’ newcomers. Likewise, most policy solutions look to facilitate incremental reforms leading to purportedly better conditions or more releases.


DeCarceral Futures aims to renew and reinvigorate scholarly dialogue to get at the roots of the problem. We urgently need to dismantle detention regimes, address the conditions leading to and reinforcing the incarceration of migrants, and build a more sustainable response to global flows of people.


I am a co-principal investigator with Professor Sharry Aiken from Queen's University. We are now over 100 participants spanning local, national, and international levels and across scholarship, law, policymaking, and social activism. We are focussed on knowledge exchange and transfer amongst a diversity of viewpoints towards achieving racial, immigrant, and penal justice in Canada and beyond.

The May 2019 workshop served as a catalyst for forging new research partnerships amongst scholars and policy makers across the domains of law, political studies, criminology, migration studies, and prison studies. We are producing newspaper articles, podcasts, videos, and a Blog series with students.


Citizenship Studies will publish a special issue in April 2021 interrogating what a carceral abolitionism position could bring to citizenship studies, with immigration detention as the key case study. The issue provides an opportunity to probe the intersections of detention with current and potential forms of citizenship, and with the new visions of immigrant justice that would come forth with the end of detention. The contributors approach the topic from a plurality of standpoints and disciplinary backgrounds. They are variously thinking through de-funding prisons, eradicating policing, eliminating the "criminal justice" system (penal abolitionism) or doing away with all forms of containment. Spanning Asia, North America, Turkey, and Europe, the articles indicate that neither the prison nor the detention centre are inevitable in the modern, democratic order.

Please explore this website for more information or to get involved.

You can listen to the May 2019 keynotes, Policy Options podcast, or CFRC Prison Radio recordings.

Harsha Walia at Decarceral Futures

Queen's University, May 9, 2019

CFRC Prison Radio

DeCarceral Futures is financially supported by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

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