360 Degrees: Perspectives on the U.S. Criminal Justice System

A web documentary helps navigate the country's incarceration craze

| January 20, 2005

In the U.S., there are myriad sides to the debate that surrounds the subject of crime and punishment, and most advocates tend to pick the one that best serves their interests and stick to it. The founders of Picture Projects, which is in the business of using new media to produce advocacy-oriented documentaries, believe the justice system is broken. So it's no surprise that their website, 360 Degrees: Perspectives on the U.S. Criminal Justice System, comes to the same conclusion. Since it's both well-designed and allows visitors access to a host of different perspectives, though, the site also manages to bring something new to the discussion.

In the 'Stories' section of the site, for instance, users can click on the image of a person's face to get inside their case and their heads. For example, Cristel was 15 years-old when she and her sister slashed 13-year-old Lupita with a razor -- she seemed beyond rehabilitation. Eventually, though, she was turned around in a Rhode Island youth facility and a judge reduced her sentence because of the improvement. On the wheel of faces next to stories like Cristel's, you can also click on someone else's to hear another side: Lupita describing how she recovered from the 100 stitches mostly in her face and neck; Judge Jeremiah explaining his decision; the prosecutor recounting her choice to try Cristel as a juvenile instead of an adult. The audio is backed up with video of the home and work spaces of interviewees, which gives visitors a unique chance to immerse themselves in each person's perspective.

The site also provides a rich resource section and teaching curriculum. The 'Dynamic Data' portion creatively sorts through incarceration statistics. Quizzes offer an interactive component, as does the 'Dialogue' section, where people affected by the system can communicate with one another through postings.

There's something for web design aficionados, as well. Some major design muscles are flexed on the site, but every element has its purpose. When you draw your cursor over one of the concentric rings of a criminal justice timeline that spans 1,400 years, the other rings ripple, like the domino effect all events have on history. Every click to another portion of the site resonates with the sound of prison doors slamming shut. The bells and whistles never overwhelm the content, though, making the site a valuable resource for anyone who wants to learn more about the criminal justice system or design effective advocacy web sites or both.

Go there >>360degrees.org

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