Panel: 'Women, Incarceration and Carceral Feminism'

Event Details

September 20, 2016
5:30 pm

Campus Center

Room: Cape Cod Lounge

UMass Amherst Campus

Handicap access available
Free and open to the public. Public reception to follow. Free parking after 5pm in the campus center garage.

While the vast majority of incarcerated people in the US are men, the rate of growth for women's imprisonment has outpaced men by more than 50 percent between 1980 and 2014 and trans women have one of the highest rates of incarceration of any group. As a result, there are 8 times as many women--many of whom are mothers--incarcerated in state and federal prisons and local jails as there were in 1980.

Moreover, women of color, especially black women, are disproportionately incarcerated--at even greater disproportion than among men. Women, and in particular trans women and all women of color, continue to be subjected to high rates of violence, whether intimate partner violence, sexual violence, or transphobic violence, which can also lead to their incarceration.

This panel of local and national activists and scholars will discuss what this increasing rate of incarceration means for women, children, and families, including how to address violence against women in the age of mass incarceration.


Andrea James has worked within the criminal justice system for more than 25 years as a youth worker to a former criminal defense attorney. She dedicated her time and resources to providing zealous representation to families within her community of Roxbury. In 2009 she was sentenced to a 24-month federal prison sentence. Even 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.

James has committed herself to fulfilling the promise she made to the women who remain in prison, to speak their truth, advocate for an end to the war on drugs and to support a shift toward community wellness. James is the author of Upper Bunkies Unite: And Other Thoughts On The Politics of Mass Incarceration. She is also the author of A Letter To My Children From A Mad, Black, Incarcerated Mother and a children’s book, My Grandparents Are Polar Bears.  She continues developing her project, Real Women, Real Voices, and her project for daughters of incarcerated women, Daughters of Justice. Andrea lives in Roxbury, with her husband and children.

Mariame Kaba is the founding director of Project NIA, a grassroots organization dedicated to ending youth incarceration. She is also co-founder of the Chicago Freedom School, the Chicago Taskforce on Violence Against Girls and Young Women, the Chicago Alliance to Free Marissa Alexander among other groups. She served as co-chair of the Women of Color Committee at the Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network and was a founding advisory board member of the Women and Girls Collective Action Network. Mariame currently organizes with Survived and Punished, a coalition of freedom campaigns and anti-violence organizations dedicated to advocating for survivors who live at the intersection of gender violence and criminalization. A writer, speaker, and educator on prison abolition, racial justice, and gender justice, Kaba has been honored with several awards including the Moxie Award from the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault and the Community Advocate of the Year Award from the Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network.

Victoria Law is a freelance journalist who focuses on the intersections of incarceration, gender and resistance. Her first book, Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women, examines organizing in women's jails and prisons across the country. Her next book, tentatively titled Your Home is Your Prison, critically examines proposed "alternatives" to incarceration and explores creative and far-reaching solutions to truly end mass incarceration.

Herschelle “Hershe” Reaves is a lifelong resident of Springfield. Reaves spent her 20s in the Bronx  struggling with the disease of addiction and spent time incarcerated on Rikers Island and upstate New York. She returned to Western Massachusetts in the early 1990s, where she sought recovery in narcotics anonymous and became a community activist and organizer with Arise for Social Justice. Reaves recently completed writing her memoirs entitled B.O.S.S. to be published by Outskirts Press in the fall. Reaves is a spoken word artist using her poetry to filter her pain and anger.

Elias Vitulli is a visiting lecturer of gender studies at Mount Holyoke College. His first book project examines the history of U.S. prison and jail practices and policies governing the management of gender nonconforming and trans prisoners.

Presented by the History Department's Feinberg Family Distinguished Lecture Series.