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We are thrilled to introduce two new oral history projects incubating in our Story Lab: The Digital Welfare State and From Incarceration to Reentry.

The VOW Story Lab is a unique opportunity for storytellers working in human rights to receive holistic support for oral history projects that amplify the voices of people directly impacted by contemporary injustice. Voice of Witness provides oral history training, editorial guidance, and project funding to these Story Lab Fellows to change the mainstream narrative around some of our most pressing inequities.

We’ll be sharing behind-the-scenes looks into these projects over the course of 2020. For now, you can learn about them below and support with a donation.

The Digital Welfare State

Across the United States and around the world, new digital tools increasingly mediate access to basic human needs such as housing, food, physical safety, medical care, financial capital, employment, and family integrity. Automated eligibility systems divert millions from public assistance programs. Social credit systems rank citizens on a spectrum from most to least deserving, controlling who has access to credit, social inclusion, and political participation. Predictive models and algorithms decide who qualifies for home health care and which children are removed from their families.

The rapid global spread of the digital welfare state has been under way for at least fifty years and yet, it is only now being recognized for what it is: a human rights crisis. Under conditions of austerity, ethnic and religious nationalism, and white supremacy, these tools allow states to hide political choices behind a smokescreen of “neutral,” “objective,” and rule-bound decision-making.Voice of Witness’s new project on the emerging digital welfare state, spearheaded by coeditors Virginia Eubanks and Andrea Quijada, aims to find the human stories—from the US as well as Australia, China, Kenya, and India—behind the algorithms.

Virginia and Andrea

From Incarceration to Reentry

The United States is a nation of prisons, incarcerating more people than any country on Earth and accounting for 40 percent of lifetime sentences worldwide. It has the highest rate of recidivism in the West—nearly 70 percent of those formerly incarcerated are rearrested within three years of release. Many of those reincarcerated have not actually committed crimes, but, subject to the inscrutable whims of their states’ parole board, are dragged back to jail for missing appointments, being unable to find work, or simply misunderstanding the terms of their parole.

Voice of Witness’s new project on life after incarceration seeks to illuminate the process of reentry in the Bay Area—a bastion of progressivism weighed down by income inequality and punitive policing. After years or decades of imprisonment, the formerly incarcerated are released into the most expensive rental market in the country with no money, no savings, and very little structural support. Coeditors Reggie Daniels and Ion Vlad will explore with narrators from across the Bay Area their complex and nuanced experiences of reentry, the specter of recidivism, and life on parole.

Reggie and Ion

Learn more about the Voice of Witness Story Lab.

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