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Incarceration nation: exhibit examines U.S. prison system

  • Adeline Broussan, from left, of South Deerfield, and Maggie Russo and Bonnie Burnham, both of Florence, look at part of the “States of Incarceration” exhibit at Forbes Library. Broussan was part of a team that set up the exhibit. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Dan Chard and Ellie Cook, both of Northampton, view a section of the "States of Incarceration" exhibit at Forbes Library. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Lisa (last name withheld), right, who is a member of Voices from Inside, speaks Monday at Historic Northampton. The talk was part of the "States of Incarceration" exhibit. Voices from Inside is a group that helps women who are currently or formerly incarcerated find their voices, return to their communities with success, and become leaders in their communities. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS



Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Not-so-fun facts: Though the United States represents just 4.4 percent of the world’s population, 22 percent of all prisoners in the world are locked up in this country. Meantime, there was a 43 percent increase in the number of prison facilities built in the U.S. between 1990 and 2006.

Those are just a couple of the grim statistics on view at an exhibit that opened in Northampton this week, at both Forbes Library and Historic Northampton, and runs through March 30.

“States of Incarceration: A National Dialogue of Local Histories” is a multi-tiered, traveling national exhibit on the history and future of mass incarceration in America. The exhibit, which opened in Holyoke in February, includes contributions by numerous local groups as well as the public history program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

The physical component of the exhibit, which features large placards with photos, prison histories and individual stories from former prisoners, and video stations, has been accompanied by numerous lectures, film screenings, field trips and other events around the region.

A tour of the Forbes Library section of the display on Monday took place beneath several blown-up photos of prisons, police and inmates, and protestors of incarceration. One includes a quote from former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld when he first ran for office: “Prisons should be a tour of hell where inmates should learn only the joy of breaking rocks.”

At the library, displays for over 20 states examine specific stories of incarceration, such as how Tennessee, unable to attract new businesses to an industrial park by a defunct nuclear power plant, built a huge new prison there instead — and how a New York prison using progressive programs to rehabilitate inmates was closed when its funding was eliminated from the state budget.

For more information on “States of Incarceration,” visit PV-SOI.org.