Feinberg Lecture Series at UMass Amherst Focuses on Failures of Mass Incarceration in the U.S.

Dwayne Betts book cover

AMHERST, Mass. – The Feinberg Family Distinguished Lecture Series at the University of Massachusetts Amherst continues on Wednesday, Sept. 28 with a talk titled “The Circumference of a Prison: Youth, Race, and the Failures of the American Justice System,” by poet, writer and former inmate Reginald Dwayne Betts at 7 p.m. in the Student Union Ballroom.

“The U.S. in the Age of Mass Incarceration” is the subject of the 2016-17 Feinberg series, which is offered by alumnus Kenneth R. Feinberg and associates every two years, focusing on a pressing contemporary issue in historical perspective.

Betts, who was arrested at age 16 and served eight years in an adult prison, is the author of “A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival and Coming of Age in Prison.” He is a PEN New England Award winner and national spokesperson for the Campaign for Youth Justice.

Betts will draw on his prison experiences to address the current state of the criminal justice system—including sentencing juveniles as adults, solitary confinement, maximum security prisons, the collateral consequences of a criminal record—and present ideas for reform.

Offered by the UMass Amherst history department in collaboration with more than two dozen community and university partners, this year’s series includes free public panels, performances, and lectures by the nation’s leading scholars, artists and activists, including many local voices and individuals with personal experience with mass incarceration.

History department chair Brian Ogilvie calls mass incarceration “one of the defining characteristics of the United States in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.”

“This year’s Feinberg Series examines the historical processes that have led to our present state, in the hope that an understanding of the past will serve as prelude to change in the future,” he said.

Chris Tinson, a Hampshire College professor and member of the series advisory board, said that many scholars have come to see the U.S. as a “penal democracy,” adding that the Feinberg series offers “an opportunity to extend and deepen the call for care-centric, restorative and abolitionist approaches toward the creation of a more just society.”

 The series will culminate in the spring 2017 opening of the national traveling exhibition “States of Incarceration: A National Dialogue of Local Stories,” which will be accompanied by a month-long series of community programs at a variety of area location with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.


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