Organizations and activists explain to the media the importance and negative effects of the narrative in covering the issues of the prison system.

April Grayson was just a teenager when she fell to jail. She had to purge a sentence of 17 years for a crime she accepts, committed.

However, what is not acceptable today is to see that the prison system continues to focus on the act of crime, without investigating what led the individual to commit it.

“No one knew that I was in the parenting system. No one knew that my mother was killed when I was 3 years old and that I was later adopted and emancipated at 18, ”Grayson said Monday. "And when people saw me, they only judged me taking only my crime into account."

For this reason, she is dedicated to raising awareness about the sentences and unfair criminalization of adolescents and women with the Young Women’s Freedom Center. As a state coordinator, Grayson is struggling to pass legislation that ensures women are treated equally and without impartiality.

The event was presented by the organization Represent Justice in collaboration with other entities. (Jacqueline García / The Opinion)

A similar story faced Sam Lewis, who in his teens committed a crime and spent 24 years imprisoned.

"I don't regret (being incarcerated) because I took someone's life and that burns me inside," Lewis told activists and journalists during the Call for Journalists of LA Represent Justice in downtown Los Angeles. "But in hindsight, I don't even understand why I was so upset at 13 or what made me hate the world at 16 or 17."

Lewis said that like him, the prison system didn't mind knowing about his past and his childhood that was surrounded by gangs, violence and poverty.

"Until I started taking therapy I began to understand why that vulnerable Sam who had never gotten into trouble became that bad person," said Lewis, who is currently the executive director of the anti-recidivism coalition (ARC).

Grayson and Lewis were part of the one-day event focused on seeing how the media form a relevant role in cases as important as those that take people to the prison system.

The event began with the presentation of the movie "Just Mercy" – currently in theaters – which demonstrated the injustice that occurred when an Alabama county blamed an innocent African-American man for murder.

The movie Just Mercy shows the scenario of how an innocent man is found guilty of a crime. (Jacqueline García / The Opinion)

Unfortunately, much of these results have to do with what the media reports, some participants in the event said. While other media only focus, they said, on sensational or decontextualized media coverage of public safety issues.

It was also said that all of this can lead not only to an erosion of security in the communities already injured, but also to a loss of confidence both in the government and in the media.

"Why is it so difficult for people who get out of jail to get housing, because they have a hard time getting a job, or being able to vote?" Asked Ev Boyle, an academic at USC Annenberg School for Communication.

The answer, the panelists said, is because of the way they are presented once they leave the prison system; exconvicts, probation, criminals. All these titles support the system to continue seeing them in a negative way despite having paid for the crime they committed.

Panelists agreed that on many occasions the police and prosecutors are not neutral agents when they are talking to the media, but rather behave as a special interest group.

It is estimated that 54% of the people who are incarcerated committed the crime. However, Lewis said that, in his case as in many others, the media and the legal system forgot to ask what he did for him to be part of that crime, what he lacked in his life to get to answer for Such an aggressive way.

Through the communication of both communities and the media, activists hope that in the future the number of mass incarceration can be reduced.

For this reason, they added, it is very important to bring together media professionals and activists to understand how these cases should be covered; In addition to knowing the language that should be used with the people who served their sentences and are now free.


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