Project Witness is a partnership between the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth (CFSY), YouTube, and Google using immersive VR (virtual reality) and Google Lens technologies to build awareness of the conditions of childhood incarceration. Project Witness features the stories of six individuals who were incarcerated as children and depicts the extreme forms of punishment imposed on incarcerated children in the United States.
Through the VR film above, viewers can see the experience of prison through the eyes of a child, with narration from people who experienced childhood incarceration firsthand. You can learn more about Google Lens below. As you scroll down this page, you can read further about the lives of the people featured in this project and immerse yourself in their thoughts.
Alyssa was 15 years old when she became trapped in the world of child sex trafficking. She was criminalized as a “child prostitute” and spent years in and out of the juvenile justice system. By age 16, Alyssa was spending 23 hours a day in solitary confinement — every day for two years. Today, Alyssa is telling her story to raise awareness on child sex trafficking and criminal justice reform.
In 1985, Laura was 17 years old and sentenced to life in prison. In 1993, she was raped by a guard and became pregnant. In 2017, an Arkansas law passed allowing crimes of minors to be resentenced and after 32 years behind bars she was released. Today, Laura is a part of the Incarcerated Children’s Advocacy Network (ICAN) and a proud mother.
After spending his early childhood between multiple foster and group homes, Jarrett was sentenced to life without parole at age 17. After 19 years in prison, and many months spent in solitary confinement, his sentence was commuted by the Governor of California. Today, Jarrett is an advocate for foster care reform.
Hernán Carvete Martinez
Hernán was just 6 years old when he started experiencing depression and anxiety. He began drinking when he was 8. By age 16 he was sentenced to serve 6 years in a secure juvenile detention facility in upstate New York. Today Hernán is a college graduate and successful activist fighting for the abolition of youth prisons and a reinvestment in community alternatives.
At 13 years old, Xavier was sentenced to 25 years, of which he served 13. While in prison, he earned several college degrees and dedicated his life to working for change on behalf of the victim in his case. Today, Xavier is Co-Executive Director at the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, where he speaks across the country to advance advocacy and public education efforts.
Raised amidst violence and abuse, Johnny was just 16 years old when he served his first 10 months at Rikers Island jail. He was later sentenced to 15 years at the age of 21. During his time, he was forced to spend over three years in solitary confinement. Today, Johnny leads efforts to end the inhumane practice across the United States.
Why are YouTube and Google getting involved in the issue of children behind bars?
Project Witness is the latest example of Google and YouTube’s work to improve the criminal justice system. Over the past five years, they have provided more than $40M in grants to criminal justice reform organizations, and taken a number of steps to advance reform actions such as prohibiting bail bond advertising on their platforms.
Project Witness uses their technology to create proximity that in turns builds empathy for the lived experiences of people who were incarcerated as children.
We hope this project inspires other storytellers and creators to use YouTube and Pixel to create deeper awareness of social justice issues – because these technologies are not only about improving the quality of our lives, but can serve as tools for social justice.