360 Degrees of Incarceration

Web Documentary Slams Home Reality of Prisons

The site's three interactive forums also attempt to look at incarceration—along with race and class—from every side. On this segment of 360degrees, there are e-mail exchanges between criminal justice experts, judges, lawyers, victims' rights proponents and other activists, ex-cons, gang members—and you. Cristel and John will also be able to participate, by reading transcriptions and mailing in their responses. This ambitious project includes an online teaching component, the Social Action Network. The six-week course for college and high school students is already being used by small groups from the South Bronx and the Lower East Side who'll get together both on the Web site and in person and have a chance to talk to justice professionals and ex-offenders. Their assignment: Design a plan for revamping the system.

360degrees is a growing concern. "New stories will be added every other month for two years," says Cornyn. "Then, hopefully, this will be handed off." Picture Projects' idea was to create the site as a pilot for a national program to be run by a social service or educational organization.

"Some of my students who don't talk a lot in class were active online," reports Maria Finn, an English teacher at Hunter College who participated in a test run last year. Her students listened to the stories and debated issues like whether prison was for punishment or rehabilitation. They also did interviews with people in the system, like correction officers or ex-offenders. "Cristel's story got them very excited," she recalls. "It made crime very real to them, not just something they see on TV."

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