Massachusetts – Smith College students marched through the streets of downtown Northampton backed by a chorus of honking cars as they chanted, “We don’t want a prison nation, stop mass incarceration!” on Saturday, Dec. 4.
This march was in support of a moratorium on prison and jail construction within Massachusetts that was introduced in the Massachusetts state legislature. The bill was written by Families for Justice and Healing and the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, who, along with Massachusetts Peace Action, sponsored the walk. Smith students and volunteers from other prison abolition organizations in the area met at the Smith Campus Center and walked through downtown Northampton to the post office and then back to the Campus Center.
The prison moratorium bill prevents the creation or expansion of prisons in Massachusetts for five years, if it is approved. This allows the government to shift funding towards community investment and find ways to prevent crime and rehabilitate criminals beyond the prison system.
“If the state got a five year moratorium,” Priya Dalal-Whelan ’25, an event organizer, said, “that would mean that we would have time to spend on building out alternatives to prison, programs that prevent people from going to prison and transformative justice alternatives to repair harm beyond punishment.”
As the students walked, they handed out flyers to passersby urging them to call the State Senate President, Karen Spika, in support of the prison moratorium bill, S.2030/H.1905.
Most of the public acted supportive of the march, with cars honking and cheering as they passed, though as the marchers gathered at the post office, one man heckled them, yelling, “I don’t need your college, shut your goddamn mouths.”
“Hopefully this will get the word out about what this bill is,” said Roz Beile ’25J. “This is getting people involved in what prison abolition really is because it’s one of those things that’s hard to imagine since we all grew up in this prison state.”
National Council organized the campaign in support of this moratorium bill, and there have been events and canvassing throughout Western Massachusetts which some Smith students, like Dalal-Whenlan and Beile, have been involved in. Dalal-Whenlan, who worked with a group called Decarcerate Western Mass during her gap year, said that the campaign was hoping to get more college students involved. This walk was part of that project. The Smith Mutual Aid Collective and other students made a poster and mobilized support for the march.
Massachusetts annually spends about $1.4 billion on operating prisons, and is currently planning to spend another $50 million on a new women’s prison. 67% of Massachusetts’ female incarcerated population have serious mental illnesses and 31% of the women released to the community were later re-incarcerated.
“I don’t think we need any new prisons,” said Anna Huber, a march attendee. “It’s like you’re investing in this idea that the community is going to be locked up and put away, causing trauma for generations and generations.”
The march instead advocated that the money should be invested back into the community for better housing, schools, treatment and healing centers. They also hope that community based sentencing, parole, medical parole and clemency could help reduce the number of incarcerated people overall.
“I’m so glad so many people came,” said Beile. “It gives me a lot of hope that there’s a big mobilizing potential at Smith College.”