Law & Order: Photo Gallery
Worldwide, 144 out of every 100,000 people are in prison. In the United States, that number jumps to 698 per 100,000. Though prison populations and the conditions of those prisons vary from country to country, the world prison system has many common problems, including prisoner mistreatment, overcrowding, gangs, unsanitary conditions, sexual assault, and rampant communicable diseases. ZEKE featured photographer Jan Banning became interested in criminal justice after finishing a project on bureaucracy; the photos in his book Bureaucratics examine the state civil administrations in eight countries. Turning his focus to the judicial pillar of society, he decided to focus on prison systems worldwide. Banning visited prisons in Colombia, France, Uganda, and the United States, discovering visual differences in the overall affect of the prisons. The photographs on the following pages, which also appear in his recently-released book Law & Order, reflect the daily realities of police, criminal justice officials, the courts, guards, prisoners, and often-hidden prison conditions. Banning leaves it up to us to continue the debate on prison reform.
Jan Banning was the winner of the Social Documentary Network’s 2016 Call for Entries on Visual Stories Exploring Global Themes. Click here to order his newest book, Law & Order: The World of Criminal Justice.
To be “tough on crime” is more than just an expression; the United States and other countries have enforced such policies for more than two decades. Punishment as a primary response to crime, often the only response, has created a world with over 10.35 million people in prisons, according to the latest World Prison Population List report, released in February by the Institute for Criminal Policy Research (ICPR) at Birkbeck, University of London. While conditions in those prisons vary from country to country, the debate remains: what’s the purpose of imprisonment — retribution or rehabilitation?
The United States leads the way in overall number of prisoners with a staggering 2.2 million, followed by China (1.65 million), the Russian Federation (640,000), Brazil (607,000), and India (418,000).
Researchers at the ICPR, have been collecting data on prison populations by country since 1997. The ICPR’s World Prison Brief database now includes such statistics from all but three countries in the entire world (Eritrea, North Korea and Somalia).
According to ICPR Research Fellow Helen Fair, governments use the World Prison Brief to see how they compare to the rest of the world. Take, for example, Kazakhstan, which in 2013 set a goal of getting out of the top 50 in terms of highest prison population rates. “[Kazakhstan] sends us regular updates on their prison population numbers so we can update the World Prison Brief, and they have now succeeded in their goal,” says Fair, who helps maintain the World Prison Brief database. The prison population numbers for Kazakhstan keep falling, and the country has gotten itself out of that top 50. “The big international organizations like Amnesty International also use it in their campaign work,” Fair says. “We are supplying the factual information that allows other people to apply that and be able to see the context.”
Given that the global prison population has risen by 20 percent since 2000 — more than the 18 percent increase in the world population during that same time period — it appears that the system as a whole still seeks to make people convicted of crimes pay for their offenses by locking them in prison. America’s prison population rate of 698 is second only to Seychelles, which has a mere 97,000 residents. While the number of US prisoners has declined slightly since 2010, that doesn’t detract from the fact that America has imprisoned nearly 2 million people per year since 2000.
“We are a very punitive system and very harsh in our judgments,” says Andrew Cohen, commentary editor at The Marshall Project, a nonprofit think tank focused on the American criminal justice system. Cohen, also a legal analyst for 60 Minutes and CBS Radio News and a fellow at New York’s Brennan Center for Justice, has reflected on everything from prison reform in Georgia, to mass incarceration, to the heroin epidemic. “Politics also play a part,” Cohen adds. “It’s easier for politicians to stand up and say, ‘We need harsher sentences.’ It’s harder for them to say, ‘We need to be more lenient with our sentencing.’“
Baz Dreisinger visited disparate countries to tell a story of prisons in her new book Incarceration Nations. Dreisinger, who teaches at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York (CUNY), intersperses reflections on prison conditions in the United States with what she saw first-hand in countries such as Uganda, Singapore, and Norway. “In all countries, I found that prisons were … echoes of the society that created them,” she writes in her book. This can be seen everywhere from the stainless-steel bar-laden institutional correctional facilities in the United States to the exemplary Halden in Norway, a prison with zero bars, a rock climbing wall, and private rooms with bathrooms and flat screen televisions.
In the current mass incarceration system, there is little evidence that incarceration actually changes behavior. According to a 2014 Bureau of Justice Statistics report, over 75 percent of prisoners released in 30 US states in 2005 were arrested for a new crime within five years. Data like this is not perfect, since it does not separate violent and nonviolent crimes, nor does it mention the number of people who were actually convicted of those crimes. However, it does get government officials and other policymakers thinking about humane treatment of prisoners and alternatives to prison. “Harsh punishments and prison terms aren’t going to solve anything,” says ZEKE featured photographer Jan Banning. “You are going to have a few people who are so dangerous for society that you probably have to lock them up forever. Other than that, I think we need to focus more on the correction aspect, improving the situation and living conditions in prisons.”
When it comes to improving the system, organizations such as Penal Reform International and the American Coalition for Criminal Justice Reform are trying to change the tide, as are individuals. Dreisinger also created P2CP, the Prison-to-College Pipeline, which brings college courses to prisoners in New York State. “I’m very interested in the value of education, and the prison system is sorely lacking in rehabilitative programs,” she says. This program, now in its fifth year, also guarantees participants a spot in the CUNY system upon release. Dreisinger adds that when she was researching Incarceration Nations, she was surprised to find like minds. “There’s a global coalition of people who really see that the system is broken in a number of ways.”
With prison costs in the United States alone at $80 billion per year, and overcrowding problems around the world, it is clear that the current system is not sustainable in terms of finances or ethics. “There is a financial cost to locking up a lot of people, but there’s also a wider social cost, the effects on society, on families,” says ICPR’s Fair. “Those are the kinds of things we will be looking at, to see where progress is made over the next five years or so. We want to see how countries will go about doing that, to see if there really is a way to make changes.”
On March 30 of this year, President Obama commuted the sentences of 61 drug offenders in federal prisons, one-third of them serving life sentences. The Foreign Prison Improvement Act of 2013, which would hold governments around the world accountable for maintaining humane prison conditions, was introduced by Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy but died in Congress. Although each country has its own areas for improvement, there may be hope yet for a less punitive and more rehabilitative system overall.
ZEKE is published by Social Documentary Network (SDN), an organization promoting visual storytelling about global themes. Started as a website in 2008, today SDN works with more than 1,500 photographers from around around the world to tell important stories through the visual medium of photography and multimedia. Since 2008, SDN has featured more than 2,000 exhibits on its website and has had gallery exhibitions in major cities around the world. All the work featured in ZEKE first appeared on the SDN website, www.socialdocumentary.net.
Spring 2016 Vol. 2/No. 1
Executive Editor: Glenn Ruga
Editor: Barbara Ayotte
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ZEKE is published twice a year by Social Documentary Network
Copyright © 2016
Social Documentary Network
Print ISSN 2381-1390
Digital ISSN: Forthcoming
ZEKE does not accept unsolicited submissions. To be considered for publication in ZEKE, submit your work to the SDN website either as a standard exhibit or a submission to a Call for Entries. Contributing photographers can choose to pay a fee for their work to be exhibted on SDN for a year or they can choose a free trial. Free trials have the same opportunity to be published in ZEKE as paid exhibits.
Cover photo by Daro Sulakauri. Georgia. Leila fell in love with a boy that she met online. She escaped from her home and crossed the border from an occupied territory of Georgia to marry.
Photographers and writers featured in this reprint from ZEKE Magazine.
Photographer Jan Banning was born in Almelo in 1954 and currently lives in Utrecht, Netherlands. He studied history at the Radbout University of Nijmegen before becoming a photographic artist. He puts the social and political environment at the fore of his work and often features subjects that have been neglected within the arts and are difficult to portray: state power, consequences of war, justice, and injustice. His project “Bureaucratics,” a comparative study of government officials, showcases his academic, socially conscious approach. This exhibition earned Jan worldwide recognition, and it was shown in museums and galleries in some 20 countries on five continents.
Among Banning’s books are Traces of War (2005), Comfort Women (2010), and Down and Out in the South (2013). Among Banning’s many awards is a World Press Photo Award. His documentary artwork has been widely published and is featured in both private and public collections, including the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
Lisa Liberty Becker
Lisa Liberty Becker has written 90-plus articles for publication in Boston magazine, Boston Sunday Globe, Boston Globe magazine, Sports Illustrated Women, Women’s Basketball magazine, and others. She also has one published nonfiction book.
In addition to being a writer, Lisa is also an editor and a writing instructor. She lives in the Boston area and is currently working on her second book.