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The Carceral Commonwealth / La mancomunidad carcelaria

A Traveling Exhibit by the UMass Amherst Public History Program and the Humanities Action Lab

The Carceral Commonwealth / La mancomunidad carcelaria is a bilingual exhibit in English and Spanish that explores how incarceration impacts families and communities in Massachusetts. How have families in our state felt the consequences of mass incarceration? How are our communities confronting this issue and advocating for change?

In exploring these questions, this exhibit considers deep histories of incarceration in Massachusetts, including the state’s leading role in 19th- and 20th-century reform movements that changed how the nation incarcerated women and young people. It also tackles more recent histories, especially how Massachusetts – like the U.S. as a whole – began incarcerating exponentially large numbers of its residents starting in the 1970s.

The Carceral Commonwealth / La mancomunidad carcelaria takes a close look at key issues around the theme of incarceration and families, including:

Exhibit Photo Gallery

The Carceral Commonwealth / La mancomunidad carcelaria on display at the Emily Williston Memorial Library in Easthampton, Mass.

Locations, Booking, and Exhibit Specs

The Carceral Commonwealth / La mancomunidad carcelaria opened on March 1, 2017 in Holyoke, Massachusetts in conjunction with the Massachusetts premier of the national exhibition States of Incarceration, which was created by the Humanities Action Lab. The opening was co-hosted by Wistariahurst Museum and the UMass Amherst Public History Program, with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Feinberg Family Distinguished Lecture Series. It then traveled to the Emily Williston Memorial Library, Forbes Library, Historic Northampton, and Prison Birth Project. It will be on display at Holyoke Community College in September, 2017.

The Carceral Commonwealth / La mancomunidad carcelaria is available for display by any Massachusetts school, college, library, museum, non-profit organization, state entity, or community group. To book this exhibit contact Jessica Johnson (UMass Amherst History Department Community Engagement Director, There is no fee to borrow the exhibit. Shipping costs will be shared by the host institution and the UMass Amherst Public History Program. The total cost to the host institution will be approximately $40. 

This exhibit consists of five 33"x80" panels printed on retractable bannerstands. The exhibit is lightweight, easily transportable and quick to assemble. The panels compress into 34" long cylinders that are approximately 5" in diameter. 


The Carceral Commonwealth / La mancomunidad carcelaria was created by UMass Amherst Public History Program graduate students and local residents in conjunction with the Humanities Action Lab. The University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Public History Program is a founding member of the Humanities Action Lab, which is a national coalition of universities, issue organizations and public spaces that collaborate to produce community-curated humanities projects on urgent social issues. 

The student curatorial team were Julie Peterson (lead curator), Katherine Fecteau, Chelsea Miller, and Sean P. Smeland. UMass advisors were Jessica Johnson and Marla Miller. Community advisors and contributors were Marriane Bullock, Kenzie Wood, and the Prison Birth Project; Jerica Coffey, Biannca Coleflesh and the Pa’lante Restorative Justice Youth Advisory Board; Holly Richardson and Out Now; and Rachel Roth. 

The Carceral Commonwealth was generously supported by the Humanities Action Lab, the UMass Amherst Office of Research Development, the UMass Amherst Department of History’s Feinberg Family Distinguished Lecture Series, and the UMass Amherst Public History Program. It was designed by Jennifer Luxton, and translated into Spanish by The UMass Amherst Translation Center.