SPHHS hosts symposium on public health and criminal justice reform

Andrea James

Andrea James

September 20, 2017

The School of Public Health and Health Sciences hosted the next event in its Dean's Symposia Series, “Women Behind Bars: Public Health and Criminal Justice Reform,” on Wednesday, September 27, from 4:00-6:00 pm in Campus Center Room 904. The event examined the public health impacts of mass incarceration with a focus on women.

Andrea James, the founder and executive director of Families for Justice as Healing, provided the keynote address. She is the author of Upper Bunkies Unite: And Other Thoughts on the Politics of Mass Incarceration, a 2015 Soros Justice Fellow, and recipient of the 2016 RFK Human Rights award.

James worked within the criminal justice system for more than 25 years, from her days as a youth worker, to her work as a criminal defense attorney. In 2009 she was sentenced to serve a 24-month federal prison sentence. After a lifetime of work seeking justice on behalf of disenfranchised people, she was stunned at what she encountered upon entering the federal prison system as an incarcerated person. Andrea uses her experience to raise awareness of the effect of incarceration of women on themselves, their children and communities, and to raise awareness of the need to shift from a criminal legal system to a system focused on human justice.

Additional featured speakers included:

  • Kenzie Johnson of The Prison Birth Project
  • Melody Slashinski, Assistant Professor of Community Health Education in the UMass Amherst Department of Health Promotion and Policy
  • Kim Gilhuly of Human Impact Partners and the National Criminal Justice and Public Health Alliance

A panel discussion moderated by Cristina Huebner Torres, Vice President with Caring Health Center in Holyoke, MA, followed the presentations. Marjorie Aelion, Dean of the School of Public Health and Health Sciences, and Acting Provost John McCarthy, delivered opening remarks.

The symposium was sponsored by the UMass Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences Western Massachusetts Health Equity Network.