Moving Forward: Past Problems and Current Realities

As more attention is placed on the American prison-industrial system, there is an increased number of activist groups focusing on prison reform, varying from the quality of life to the criminal justice system as a whole. The family separations and harsh conditions of immigrant detention facilities, the increase in exonerations of those on death row, and failing conditions within the prisons are all reminders of how the trends reflected in this exhibit still bear relevance today.

Exploring the ins and outs of life at Crystal City brings to mind the immigration detention centers along the U.S.-Mexico Border.

As we reflect on the injustices of "enemy alien" internment during World War II, fueled by xenophobia and fears of invasion, one can observe that such sentiments persist and continue to impact how we treat immigrants today. Similar to the internees at Crystal City, the fate of those detained largely rests in how the state chooses to treat them, which complicates protecting their human rights. Conditions at detention centers have been called deplorable, people lacking in essential supplies such as baby formula, toothpaste, and medicine. There are family separations, where children are removed from the care of their parents, sometimes for months, causing emotional harm and toxic stress. In order to address these challenges, many advocacy groups have provided assistance to immigrants in arguing for better treatment. One organization, called RAICES, offers free and low cost legal services to immigrants who may not have access to them. Another one, The South Texas Human Rights Center, builds water stations for people crossing the border, conducts search and rescues for the loved ones of immigrants, and endeavors raise awareness about the harsh conditions of immigrant containment as a whole. The presence of these groups validates that the struggle for the rights of the detained continues to this day, and sheds light on some of the strategies used to assist them.

While the criminal courts are meant to be infallible and just, many people are serving time in prisons for crimes they did not commit.

Since 1973, 169 inmates on death row have been exonerated of their charges. These inmates won their battle, but others are not so lucky. While there is no way to find the exact number of people who were wrongfully executed, the Death Penalty Information Center highlights 17 cases of possible wrongfull executions, 10 of which are from Texas. In fact, there is some debate surrounding the innocence of Gary Graham, the creator of the What’s Happening newsletter. But there could be many more people, who unfortunately did not have the same attention or resources of others. The Innocence Project is a US organization focused on overturning wrongful executions through DNA testing and judicial reforms. According to their website, the organization has assisted in some of the 367 total DNA exonerations within the US, 21 of which were people on death row. While the Innocence Projects focuses on a number of criminal cases outside of capital punishment, their activism has helped to prevent a number of wrongful executions, and has given hope to many other inmates wrongfully convicted. While it is too late for some, DNA testing can undue present convictions, and restore innocence to the names of those already executed.

Moving Forward: Past Problems and Current Realities