The California Museum of Photography presents States of Incarceration, a traveling multimedia exhibit that explores the history and future of mass incarceration in the United States. Today, the US incarcerates more of its population than any other country in the world and at any other moment in its history, with deep racial disparities in the system reinforcing inequalities in American society. How did this happen? What can we learn from the past? How can we shape a different future?
To answer these questions, 20 teams of university faculty, students, and community organizers in 17 states each contributed a “chapter” in this history to create States of Incarceration. Histories include how a slave plantation in Louisiana became the infamous Angola prison; how the Dakota Wars left legacies of high rates of Native American incarceration in Minnesota (paralleled by high indigenous incarceration rates nationwide); and how numbers of immigration detention centers have skyrocketed. UCR’s focus on the criminalization of youth—especially youth of color in Southern California—traces histories of state violence from the turn of the 20th century, when Whittier State School for “juvenile offenders” and Riverside’s Sherman Institute for Indians were founded, to mid-century public fears of juvenile delinquency, to gang injunctions, racial profiling, and policing of youth in schools today. Yet, as States of Incarceration highlights, in the face of these challenges, youth, alongside their elders, resist criminal labeling, and fight for change.
Using historic photographs, recent journalism, audio and video interviews, data visualization, and artwork, the exhibit brings local stories to bear on the national dialogue. Together they chart a genealogy of the incarceration generation, acknowledge the traumatic multigenerational effects on communities, and identify national narratives important for building paths to a more restorative future. The exhibit is augmented with a web platform (statesofincarceration.org), public programs, and a podcast series.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website