I first came across Pete Brook's Prison Photography site a couple of years ago when I was first starting to photograph with Erika and was really inspired by all the work being done to shine light on the growing and multifaceted issue of incarceration in our society. Which is why I am so deeply honored that Pete featured (Freedom)bound on the site this week, alongside some other really powerful work on incarceration, including a project by Amy Elkins that I am currently obsessed with, that just won the Aperture Portfolio Prize.
With so many people being locked up, released, and unfortunately returning to prison, the criminal justice system has wide reaching consequences for millions of individuals, their families, and their communities. And for those without a loved one incarcerated, it's easy to forget the problem exists. Out of sight, out of mind.
But even if you don't have a parent, child, or friend incarcerated, and even if you don't think the problem affects you, it does. Ironically, it costs (tax payers) way more $$ to house an inmate for a year than a person with a criminal record can earn working full time making minimum wage for a year. Consider this: even with one of the highest minimum wages ($10.10/hour), in the state of Connecticut, a previously incarcerated individual working full time at minimum wage will make only $21,008 before taxes. And yet, it costs about $35,000 to house a single inmate for a year in Connecticut.
And the problem is only growing as the federal government is increasingly reliant on private prisons, which have a financial incentive for inmates to reoffend and return to prison.. and we, the public, do not have the same Freedom of Information Act rights to access information (like safety concerns) about what happens in private prisons that we have for federal prisons.
It's one huge, complicated problem that I can't pretend to have answers to, but I can try to help people understand that the problem isn't just political, it's PERSONAL. My hope is that by sharing stories like Erika's and the other stories featured on Prison Photography, we can inspire more people to care enough to find a solution.