YouTube’s Project Witness VR Campaign Shines A Spotlight On Child Incarceration

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A 360-degree film exposes the struggles of 48,000 minors spending 23-hours per day in isolated confinement.

Despite a Federal Law prohibiting the confinement of children in adult correctional facilities, 1-in-10 of the 48,000 incarcerated minors in the US are currently serving time in adult penitentiaries alongside hardened criminals. Many of those incarcerated spend up to 23-hours per day in isolated confinement and are allowed only a single hour to leave their cell and interact with others.

The latest in a series of ongoing criminal justice initiatives being conducted by YouTube, Project Witness shines a necessary spotlight on the struggles of these children, many of whom women considered “child prostitutes” rather than victims of rape and human trafficking.

Developed in partnership with the Campaign for Fair Sentencing of Youth (CFSY), the roughly 7-minute 360-degree VR film follows a handful of formerly incarcerated children as they share their experiences with isolated confinement and incarceration in general. Users are guided from dimly-lit cell to dimly-lit cell as each child elaborates on their time spent inside an adult prison; from the constant sounds of violence to the ever-present feeling of danger despite being utterly alone.

“As a human rights lawyer, I spent much of my time visiting girls behind bars,” said Malika Sadda Saar, a leader on human rights for the YouTube Social Impact program, in an official release. “Many were arrested for child prostitution, even though they’d only lived 13 or 14 young years of life — not even close to the age of consent. They were not “child prostitutes,” but victims of child rape and trafficking. In prison, many of the girls were isolated for weeks, spending 23 hours a day in solitary confinement.”

“It was impossible for the struggles of these girls — and more broadly, the 48,000 U.S. children who are behind bars — to be witnessed. Their stories go unseen and unheard. So, to help these girls be more visible, I came to Google in 2015. And as Senior Counsel on Civil and Human Rights, I wanted to wield technology for the greater humanitarian good. YouTube and Google have always been a tool for people to change their own narratives.”

Project Witness follows on the heels of the release of YouTube’s latest episode of BookTube during which Bryan Stevenson, an American lawyer and social justice activist, discusses his book and film, Just Mercy.

Project Witness is just the latest attempt by YouTube to support the American criminal justice system; the company has spent $30M in the last four years on various grants to reform organizations and other criminal justice programs, such as Love Letters, a non-program that allows young children to send their incarcerated parents digital love letters on Mother’s and Father’s Day. 

Those interested in learning more about the important work being to assist incarcerated children visit fairsentencingofyouth.org.

Image Credit: YouTube, Google

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