From the Inside Out

PROJECT DESCRIPTION

From the Inside Out is an action-research-based multidisciplinary project that advocates for the use of humanizing language and representative imagery and depictions of people in prison to decrease punitive triggers in the US criminal justice system, as well as to change the existing negative narratives of people in prison and those formerly incarcerated. The core hypothesis of this project is that the widespread pejorative labels and depictions of people touched by the criminal justice system—in both real life and the media—dehumanize incarcerated populations. This tendency contributes to the maintenance of punitive attitudes, abusive penal policies, a general desensitization to prison malpractices and, ultimately, a reluctance to the reintegration of formerly incarcerated individuals into society. Thus, targeting negative label use and misrepresentations of people in prison could have the impact of reducing dehumanization and its detrimental consequences for the lives of those who are or have been affected by the prison system.

 

The goal of From the Inside Out is to collaboratively deconstruct these degrading and inaccurate narratives by showcasing the perspectives of directly impacted artists and creative voices. By providing a platform for these individuals to express themselves, we hope to dispel misrepresentations and reframe the conversations surrounding people in prison and our present carceral state. If the public is better able to understand the malpractices of the prison system and view the incarcerated as people rather than criminals, these individuals will have an easier time reentering society and working towards personal development. Over the project’s duration, we will work with both new and experienced artists to deconstruct widespread misperceptions about incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals in order to create a counter-narrative where their humanity is understood and honored.


SOCIETAL ISSUE

 

The role of Popular Media in dehumanizing people in the criminal justice system

People in prison, including those suffering from mental illnesses, are victims of mistreatment such as violence due to the use of excessive force and severe neglect in the form of moral exclusions and disengagement by prison guards and other staff  (Haslam, 2006; Blackler, 2015; Gullapalli, 2015), as per correctional policy. This mistreatment is not conducive to a successful reentry back into society. The US rate of recidivism in 2014 was 76.6% compared to Norway’s 20%. This difference is attributed to Norway’s implementation of the concept of “restorative justice” (Sterbenz; 2014). This concept prioritizes the humanization and rehabilitation of people in prison. Acknowledging their humanity and treating people in prison as people instead of irredeemable and unworthy of acceptance (Dreisinger; 2016). Despite the above research, existing information, and efforts made by activist and organizations lobbying against these conditions, the inhumane treatment continues to occur (Blackler, 2015). This would suggest that a larger constituency remains compliant with, and/or ignorant to, these abuses.

 

The general public’s negative perception of who people in prison actually are encourages their willingness to legitimize or ignore prison injustices and the dehumanization of people in prison. Mainstream media characterizes these negative beliefs about people who go to jail or prison. According to the A.C. Nielsen Co., the average American watches more than 4 hours of TV each day. According to the Television in American Society Reference Library, watching television influences viewers’ attitudes about people from other social, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds. Watching TV also influences the way people think about important social issues such as race, gender, and class. Not only does television, movies and other shared media actively shape attitudes, but they also condition people to respond to things in a collective way, to develop shared feelings of ill-will and hatred, and to react impetuously without further thought or self-examination. Forms of media such as TV and film actively (p)redefine and engineer negative subconscious beliefs about people who go to jail or prison. These beliefs then feed into emotional responses. This is a technique that allows information to bypass any conscious thought.

       

The role of Punitive Attitudes in the criminal justice system

The importance of public attitudes towards people in the criminal justice system cannot be denied. In modern democracies, the legitimacy of the criminal justice system depends on the willing participation of members of the public (Viki & Bohner, 2008). The public’s willingness to support the criminal justice system depends strongly on their attitudes towards the criminal justice process (Viki, Culmer, Eller, & Abrams, 2006; Wood & Viki, 2004). As is well known, the USA has increasingly become more punitive and exclusionary over the last thirty years. According to some scholars (Yeomans, 2010), this recent focus on punitiveness and social exclusion have resulted from the interconnections between the media, public opinion and legislative changes. One important aspect of understanding such interconnections is the tendency to dehumanize (Haslam, 2006) people who get involved in criminal justice and in the prison system.

Dehumanizing language and misrepresentative imagery are often used to address and describe people in prison and those formerly incarcerated. The spectacularization of criminal trials, together with false depictions of institutional life in and by the media has provided a misleading and individualistic image of people touched by the criminal justice system, by depicting them as “bad” individuals who willingly break the law and harm others for the sake of their own interest or pleasure. Such misrepresentative imagery has fueled subconscious negative beliefs about people who go to jail or prison within public opinion.

Altogether, the dehumanization and, derivatively, the mistreatment of people in prison largely impedes their rehabilitation and is not conducive to their successful reentry back into society. If criminality is viewed in essentialistic ways and people in prison are regarded as irredeemable criminals and unworthy of acceptance (Dreisinger, 2016), then public attitudes are likely to be negative about their actual social rehabilitation and reintegration (Kury & Ferdinand, 1999). Examples from Northern Europe endorsing restorative approaches to crime have shown significant success.


PART 1: RESEARCH

Research & Studies

Through empirical studies and the artistic dissemination of their results in publications, through public outreach campaigns and art-based programming, and through media this project aims to produce and exhibit evidence about the detrimental effects of dehumanizing language and misrepresentations of people in jail/prison in three different contexts: public opinion, judicial context, and prison settings. In so doing, this project ultimately aims to sensitize public opinion and criminal justice professionals about the negative consequences that dehumanizing labeling and misperceptions have on the lives of those who are or have been impacted by incarceration.

 

The research conducted in this project is divided into four parts. First, a statistical analysis of whether negative and dehumanizing stigma attaches to the language used to describe people in prison (Language of Dehumanization Project). Second, a historical analysis of the language and dehumanization in the context of incarceration in the US (History of Language Project). Third, an investigation into the role of neuroscience in decreasing dehumanization of people in prison (Neuroscience Project). And finally, an assessment of how people who have experienced the prison system first-hand regard systems of incarceration and view their own identities (Interview Project). These research components are explained below.

 

Language of Dehumanization Project

The Language of Dehumanization Project is divided into two parts. The first part, the pilot study, created a survey measuring each of Haslam’s characteristics of human uniqueness and nature against Haslam’s characteristics of mechanistic and animalistic dehumanization. Participants answered on Likert scales their perception of whether or not these traits were attributed to 14 different labels, including the 3 prison related terms of interest (inmate, convict, prisoner). The study evolved from a body of research which identifies that people in prison are widely perceived as dangerous and manipulative and are therefore dehumanized by way of severe neglect in the form of moral exclusions and disengagement by prison guards and other staff (Haslam, 2006; Blackler, 2015; Gullapalli, 2015). Despite this accumulated knowledge of abuses in a prison context, mistreatment continues to occur. The study hypothesized that widespread dehumanization of the prison population through the language used to describe people in prison and the stigma this language carries could be one reason why a large proportion of society remains silent in the face of mistreatment of people in prison.

The Pilot Study is currently subject to statistical analysis. A follow-up study, study 2, is currently in preparatory stages. Study 2 will focus on the identification of the human characteristics of a person. It hypothesizes that the more we identify humanity in the way we reference people, the less we perceive them in a dehumanizing manner. Participants would answer a similar questionnaire to that utilized in the Pilot Study, but they would be divided into three groups. Group one would answer questions framed using words such as word inmate or prisoner. The second group would be questioned with “person first” language, for example, a person who is in prison. The third group would be given more context about the individual, providing information on their situation or aspects of their characteristics, for example, a person who is in prison awaiting trial.

 

History of Language Project

The History of Language Project aims to produce a historical reference of how media and language have been used to shape perceptions of people in prison. It will analyze the manner in which law, policy, and popular discourse have shaped punitive attitudes. The study constitutes a longitudinal assessment of attitudes towards crime and people in prison both in the legal system and the media. It will utilize historical research and literature review to assess how the media representation of people in prison intersects with and is reflected in the policy and law of the day. In addition, it will investigate whether it is the legal framework, popular media or personal opinion and experience that influence the public opinion of people in prison at particular points in time. The aim of the project is to produce a series of publications on topics in the historical representation of people in prison and to consolidate these publications into a “Humans In Prisons Report” which will provide a broad analysis of the historical context of imprisonment in the US.

Neuroscience Project

The Neuroscience Project aims to use the techniques of neuroscience to identify punitive triggers through neuro-activity stimulated by the language used in the criminal justice system. The project will ask whether neuroscientific imaging demonstrates a link between dehumanizing legal language, public imagery, and other jargon and more punitive attitudes, discrimination, and exclusion of people in prison.

  • Thesis: Dehumanization stems from the court systems and law practices (retributive punishment). If we change the way language is used and perceived, and move toward humanistic language in law jurisdictions, we will change the way people who are incarcerated are perceived and move toward restorative justice.

 

Interview Study

Hypothesis: Correctional facilities do not live up to their expressed mission statements, goals and values. Prisons close themselves off from public scrutiny and act as distinct from the justice system even though their practices influence the general public and should be consistent with the United States’ values of justice and basic human rights. We believe:

 

  • through exploring formerly incarcerated individuals’ perceptions of how institutions of incarceration 1) implement rehabilitative practices, 2) ensure the safety of people in prison, and 3) consider the health and wellbeing of people in prison, we can gain an understanding of how effectively correctional facilities perform their societal purpose.

 

The purpose of this study is to look critically at how correctional facilities live up to their stated mission statements, goals, and values. After surveying the mission statements of correctional facilities in every state, we noticed that most facilities state that their aim is not only to provide a controlled and secure environment but to meet prisoners’ needs and prepare them for reentry.

Though prisons are part of the American justice system, they remain largely closed from the public eye and from political scrutiny. Concrete research on the conditions of prison and the lived experience of people in prison is sparse, and the public is only “informed” about prisons through media portrayals of the incarceration experience. In this study, we hope to develop an “insider view” on how people in prison experience institutions of incarceration. Due to the lack of research on the experience of being convicted, incarcerated, then released on parole/probation, our goal is to fill in this gap by explicitly asking formerly incarcerated individuals about their experience in the justice system: how their basic needs were met in prison, how their health was cared for, the nature of their relationships with prison staff and fellow prisoners, and how their time in prison prepared them psychologically, socially and practically to reenter society.

 

MEET THE RESEARCH TEAM


PART 2: PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT

 

Artistic Response

EXHIBITIONS: Produce several distinctive exhibitions as a centerpiece of the project. The headline exhibition will be a solo presentation, curated by lead artist, Pastor Isaac Scott, which will visually articulate the thoughts, feelings, goals, and hardships of people doing time and returning home. Subsequent group exhibitions will follow a similar theme.

FILM PROJECT: A team of directly and indirectly impacted filmmakers will create a fictional film series that will explore the experiences of five characters as well as non-fictional short video testimonies from people who have survived incarceration.

YOUTH AND COMMUNITY WORKSHOPS: This project will include the artistries of young people and community members from diverse backgrounds by connecting teaching artists with community and youth leadership groups. Collaborative workshops and art activities will be offered and designed to guide participants in addressing their own misperceptions of incarcerated people and misperceptions others may have that can lead to incarceration for women and youth.

       

By artistically disseminating research information The From the Inside Out Project integrates and expands the scope of The Confined Arts (TCA), an art-based initiative founded in 2014 by Pastor Isaac Scott as a recently released visual artist. TCA is a platform that illustrates and showcases the talents and creative voices of currently and formerly incarcerated artists. TCA has a two-part mission: 1) to change narratives that are commonly associated with individuals who are formerly incarcerated as well as those currently in prison, 2) to create a consistent stream of public, research-based education. TCA was born as a response to Pastor Scott’s personal experience in the NYS prison system.

 

“Through 9 years of lived experience, I personally understand the need for realistic representations of individuals like myself, who have been convicted of a crime in the past, to facilitate their social reintegration and well-being.” -Pastor Isaac Scott

 

CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE CONFINED ARTS

 


RESEARCH ASSISTANT QUALIFICATIONS 

  • Writing Skills:
    • Be able to draft small reports that are communicable
    • Be comfortable with APA/MLA citation
  • Computer Skills:
    • Experience handling small or large databases and large documents with sensitive information
    • Proficient in Google Suite and Microsoft Suite
  • Interpersonal Skills:
    • Be able to work collaboratively in a team setting
    • Be comfortable with people who are formerly incarcerated
    • Be able to communicate easily with team members
  • Time Commitment:
    • 10 Hours per week (2 hours in Lab, 8 hours remote)
    • Be able to commit at least 2 semesters to this project

HOW  TO APPLY 

 

CLICK HERE TO APPLY AS A RESEARCH ASSISTANT

If you have any questions or concerns please contact

Pastor Isaac Scott @ iis2106@columbia.edu