I am not condoning crime but are people who committed one fundamentally different from us?
What do you see now that I have portrayed these women in a non-stereotypical way?
In a democracy, the consequence of a crime is a prison sentence. Once the sentence is served, the former inmate is entitled to a new life.
These days, former inmates are stigmatized via the internet: a second (lifelong) sentence. This practice bypasses the democratic decision-making process. Internet stigmatization can have a strong impact on former inmates' lives and their chances to start a new life.
I am not condoning crime. I just refuse to accept that people who committed one are fundamentally different from us; that they are the bad guys and we are the good guys. What about you? Do you believe that the average citizen is a better human being than these inmates? Do we really want to limit ourselves to punishment, even though no connection has been proven between imprisonment and crime rates? In fact the name “Department of Corrections” could be viewed as a misnomer in that respect. True correction however could be a real contribution to society.
We, as a society, have decided that the consequence of committing a serious crime is to serve time in prison. When a person has served that time, he/she should be entitled to start a new life. However, these days, a second (life) sentence has been added - especially in the USA - by a new form of tribunal that bypasses the democratic decision-making process: offenders’ names, faces and other information is being placed on the internet. The availability of this information is bound to have a strong impact on former inmates’ lives and their chances to move on to a new, non-criminal life, especially because the large majority of U.S. employers perform criminal background checks on prospective employees.
For three days in June 2013, The Georgia Department of Corrections (GA DOC) granted me access to Pulaski Women’s Prison in Hawkinsville, GA, to photograph its inmates. I was not allowed to ask them questions or discuss anything other than name, age, sentence and time spent in prison. I explicitly was not permitted to discuss their crime with them.
However, the crimes they have been convicted of, as well as other information, is publicly available on the Georgia Department of Corrections website.
As it turns out – and to the astonishment of many Europeans – a lot of additional information about inmates and former inmates can be easily found on the internet. Simply entering an inmate’s name in a search engine often leads to mug shots, court transcripts, mainstream media articles, etc. The sensationalist media, which tend to focus more on condemnation than on information, is attracted to crime like a moth to a flame. Their starting point tends to be that ‘criminals’ are monsters, beings made from a completely different mold than us, and thus incomprehensible by definition. This serves well to obscure our understanding of the motives and characters of people who commit crimes and certainly does not contribute to a political climate that is favorable to a rational approach to crime, according to the latest views of criminologists and others.
Interestingly, we can now even buy information on the internet about all citizens, e.g. via Instant Checkmate (“Keep Your Family Safeâ Run A Background Check Today”).
I realize that with this project I am adding another source, but given the fact that I am only repeating information that is already available, I hope that this project will promote an intelligent and somewhat more nuanced look at crime and punishment in the USA and not affect these women negatively, now or in the future.
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