Witness Voices from Jails and Prisons

Susan Sturm, George M. Jaffin Professor of Law and Social Responsibility, Columbia Law School

The spread of the coronavirus has exposed the inhumanity, waste, and danger of a criminal legal system that public defenders, organizers and advocates, and most critically those directly impacted have long known has completely traded away public health for pain and punishment. As the coronavirus tears through our communities and has now begun to ravage jails and prisons across the United States, it is critical for the public and those in a position of power to do something to hear directly from those suffering and fearful in jails and prisons--unable to practice the same basic measures needed for public health and safety in the community--and their families and friends suffering on the outside, more uncertain and anxious than ever about the fate of their loved ones.
A critical media and storytelling project to collect first-hand accounts of the human impact and cruelty of criminalization, jails, and prisons in the time of coronavirus that will be housed on an interactive website. Audio of phone calls from jails/prisons, video selfies of their families, letters, and other media artifacts from witnesses--those incarcerated or recently released, and their family members and friends--will be presented on an interactive site that allows the general public to take action in whatever jurisdiction the witness is based, journalists to connect with witnesses and their representatives for sourcing and further amplification, and witnesses themselves to submit content directly on the site.