April 25, 2019 | 52° F

Rutgers Incarceration exhibit looks at American criminal justice system

The exhibition is running from Jan. 22 until March 9, it includes film screenings and a two-day conference

Photo by States of Incarceration |

Throughout the exhibition, visitors are shown a number of statistics such as incarceration rates in the United States, the number of people incarcerated and the amount of detained immigrants paired with local case studies in the United States.


Created by more than 500 students and community partners in 17 states, the "States of Incarceration" exhibit found at the Mabel Smith Douglass Library explores mass incarceration in the United States.

The exhibition was created by Andrew Urban, an assistant professor in the Department of American Studies and his students as a part of this nationwide project. 

The exhibit includes specifics, such as the rate of incarceration in the United States, the number of people incarcerated and the amount of detained immigrants, said Kayo Denda, a librarian at the Rutgers University Libraries with an interest in Japanese-American history. Visitors can see many aspects of incarceration and leave their answers to questions displayed throughout. 

“Hosting exhibitions and events such as the 'States of Incarceration' is a way for academic libraries to engage with scholars with (a) focus on public history and contemporary issues," Denda said in an email. "We believe this type of opportunity situates the libraries at the heart of the University."

She said exhibitions like this one also expand the role of the library by creating an active and exciting place of debate between community members.

Urban said that getting people to talk about incarceration is an important step in promoting crime-reform initiatives and more humane punishments.

Jazmyn Carrington, a research assistant with the Aresty Research Program at Rutgers University, has done extensive amounts of research for the exhibit. The School of Arts and Sciences junior said her research incorporates the roots of incarceration and the modern politics around the issue. 

“The visual representation of it all," Carrington said of her favorite part of the exhibition. "All of the panels have some sort of powerful image or text that grabs the viewer in, and I feel that it is the best way to reach our audience.”

The exhibit is running from Jan. 22 until March 9. Other components of the showing include screenings of films and a two-day conference, according to the Rutgers University Libraries website. 

Carrington said that the exhibit covers issues that a lot of people feel strongly about, whether they have been affected directly or indirectly by it. Anyone with an open mind about the criminal justice system and the way it treats criminals should visit the exhibit.

The "State of Incarceration" exhibit tackles ideas through local case studies in the United States, which opens up a national dialogue on what must happen next. 

“In the United States, mass incarceration and the detention of Americans and immigrants affects everyone. The United States presently incarcerates more individuals each year at a rate unprecedented in any other time in history,” Urban said in an interview. 

He said that the exhibit shows the extent to which incarceration impacts different communities and the social justice issues linked to confinement.

“I love how everyone comes to their own conclusions and interpretations of how what each panel means to them, and it really does do what the exhibit was meant for — to create a conversation and open up dialogue,” Carrington said.

Emre Ugurlu

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