Center for Global Humanities Lecture/Seminar Series

Reform Nation? The Movement Against Mass Incarceration

6:00 pm - 7:30 pm
WCHP Lecture Hall in Parker Pavilion
Portland Campus
Colleen Eren
Free and open to the public. There will be a reception at 5 P.M. in the Art Gallery

Five years ago, in December of 2018, on the verge of a government shutdown over border security, an unusual constellation of “strange bedfellow” stakeholders from inside and outside government gathered around the Oval Office desk of President Trump to pass the First Step Act. It was an unlikely bipartisan bill, among the few examples of decarceratory criminal justice federal legislation in decades. While modest, it was intensely symbolic of a turning point in the politics of mass incarceration; coming during a time of intractable polarization, it signaled that the reform movement had gone national and become mainstreamed. The “strange bedfellows” within that movement included high-net-worth philanthropists from the hedge fund and tech worlds, celebrities, corporate leaders, right- and left-leaning national advocacy organizations, and the formerly incarcerated themselves. While the passage of the First Step Act demonstrated the ability of a broad coalition to unify for some change, the tale of the Act’s passage also was a richly emblematic flashpoint for the fault lines, tensions, and divides of the larger movement, which rose to prominence during an era of both philanthro-capitalism and post-democratic trends.

In this lecture, Colleen Eren will draw from her most recent book, Reform Nation: The First Step Act and the Movement to End Mass Incarceration (Stanford University Press), to investigate the main questions surrounding the national criminal justice reform movement and the passage of the First Step Act, including how the movement emerged and why. Furthermore, she will ask how the movement speaks to certain democratic processes in the United States, and will discuss the potential for a transformative movement for criminal justice reform truly “from below.” As crime retakes the national spotlight, the lecture will speak to issues that are truly urgent.


Colleen P. Eren, Ph.D., is an associate professor and the Criminology and Criminal Justice Program Director at William Paterson University. A member of the Crime and Justice Research Alliance of the American Society of Criminology, Eren is an active contributor to the scholarly community. Her research focuses on white-collar crime, crime and media, and social movements on criminal justice issues. Her latest book, Reform Nation: The First Step Act and the Movement Against Mass Incarceration (Stanford, 2023) is the first book to look specifically at criminal justice reform as a social movement since its mainstreaming in 2020. She is also the author of Bernie Madoff and the Crisis: The Public Trial of Capitalism (Stanford, 2018), which examined the way in which the high-profile Ponzi scheme allowed the public to discuss the broader economic problems which led to the Financial Crisis of 2008. She has been featured in several documentaries about the Madoff case, and has been published in the New York Times on the subject. Additionally, Eren is co-author of The Impact of Supreme Court Cases on U.S. Institutions: A Sociology of Law Primer (Routledge, 2021).  Prior to entering academia, Eren was director of organizing at New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty, which led a successful statewide campaign to end capital punishment. She is vice president of the board of New Hour for Women and Children, an NGO which assists women reentering society after incarceration.

Assigned Reading

Colleen Eren, Reform Nation: The First Step Act and the Movement to End Mass Incarceration (Stanford University Press, 2023)


WCHP Lecture Hall in Parker Pavilion
716 Stevens Avenue
Portland, ME 04103
United States

Reform Nation Poster