Hanging in the lobby of the United Nations International School is a photo exhibit titled "Broken?" Featuring nine panels created by the school's Tutorial House (high school) students, they depict the injustices of mass incarceration in the United States.
The panels reflect the issues that will be discussed at this Saturday's daylong symposium on the criminal justice system: Racial Disparities in the War on Drugs, the New Jim Crow, Inequalities of Bail, Solitary Confinement, Impact on Families, Post-Release Challenges, Youth Incarceration, Immigration Detention and Restorative Justice.
Created as part of a summer human rights photojournalism program, Picture Justice is organized by UNIS Global Politics teacher Abby MacPhail, in collaboration with Proof: Media for Social Justice.
Throughout August 2015, Picture Justice students spent two intensive weeks investigating the U.S. criminal justice system. Using New York City as their classroom, they met with representatives from local human rights organizations working on policy reform and providing services to the formerly incarcerated. Participants also trained with professional photographers from Proof, and met with 17 formerly incarcerated people to hear their stories and take their portraits.
The project brought into focus many of the broken aspects of the criminal justice system, such as racial disparities, repercussions for families and children, mental health issues and the problems of solitary confinement, to name a few.
The idea for Picture Justice started back in 2014, when MacPhail was exploring opportunities to introduce her IB Global Politics students to local human rights issues. "My initial plan was to take my students to the slums of Kibera, Kenya, to introduce them to youth with whom I had worked previously. I wanted them to see how these youth experienced human rights and development challenges," she says. "However, I soon realized that there are enough human rights abuses in New York City that warranted investigation, and worried that taking them to Kenya might leave them with the idea that human rights abuses happen only 'over there'."
The first year of the program involved ten Global Politics students. In its second year, the program grew to 17, and expanded to students from other classes, alumni, as well as students from four other New York City schools.
"Picture Justice taught me that photojournalism isn't just about picking up a camera and going out to talk to people," says Elisabeth Wandel, a UNIS alumna who returned as a program coordinator for the second year. "It's about paying attention to detail, capturing a relationship or feeling, and retelling people's stories through photos."
"It changed the course of what I want to study after high school," adds Eva, a senior fully involved with "Broken?" "I get to vote for the first time in the next presidential election—this is such a huge issue and I want to be knowledgeable."
Eva was not only a part of this summer's learning experience, but also co-directed the theater component, which uses transcripts and audio collected during the interviews. Since early September, 14 students, led by Kiara Downey, head of Theater and Performing Arts, have been devising a script out of these transcripts in order to showcase a theatrical component for the symposium.
"Theater makes issues accessible in a way that wouldn't touch so many people otherwise," says Marlon, a junior who stars in the play and was also involved in the summer program. "It's a great way to get information out there and educate people using different methods."
Co-hosted by Proof, "Broken?" will be held at the United Nations International School campus on Saturday, November 7 from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. The program includes an introduction and synopsis presented by the students involved, workshops led by participating organizations, and a keynote address by the Vera Center on Youth Justice Hernan Carvente. The student-devised theatre performance will close the symposium. For more program details, including participating organizations, visit http://www.picturejustice.org/#!program/xs4d4. To attend the event, register on the "Broken?" webpage.