Alison Cornyn, Kathleen Husler: Incorrigibles

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Artist Statement:

    incorrigibles is a transmedia project that tells the stories of ‘incorrigible’ girls in the United States over the last 100 years—beginning with New York State. We draw on the personal narratives of young women in “the system” to investigate the history and present state of youth justice and social services for girls. The project centers on gleaning information from archival documents relating to young women’s incarceration, starting with those from the New York State Training School for Girls (1904-1975). We are expanding our research to include other youth detention centers in the United States; recording and sharing accounts of women alive today who were confined in these institutions, and organizing community engagement events with young women and the public to encourage critical analysis around youth detention and behavioral intervention. This history holds significant meaning for contemporary debates around penal reform, child welfare, juvenile justice, use of solitary confinement, and the role that race, gender, income and immigrant status play in determining what is a crime and appropriate punishment. The project title relates to a term encountered again and again in various source documents, including records from the New York State Archives and The New York Training School for Girls in Hudson, New York—the project’s’ pilot site of study: ‘Incorrigible’. The term was used to describe and categorize the girls (ages 12-16) who were incarcerated there. The term expressed how they were perceived and labeled by the people around them as “unable to be corrected or reformed.” Digging through documents and historical images spanning the period between 1904 and 1975, we discovered letters that the young women at the Training School wrote to their families, detailed reports of doctor’s examinations, legal decisions made by the court that led to their incarceration, and letters written by parents to the institution. One of the young women deemed ‘incorrigible’ and incarcerated at the Training School during the 1930s was the legendary jazz singer, Ella Fitzgerald.



Alison Cornyn & Kathleen Hulser – Incorrigibles from ACM SIGGRAPH on Vimeo.

Other Information:

    Documentary, Incarceration, Juvenile Justice, Narratives, Race, and Social Justice