This Radio Is Actually A Recorder Meant To Help Prison Inmates

The prototype is meant to start a dialogue about how prisoners voices are silenced

Oct 21, 2016 at 4:15 PM ET

Harassment, abuse, and other instances of prisoner mistreatment too often goes unreported in the U.S., but one designer has an idea she imagines could change that.

Marianna Mezhibovkaya, a designer seeking her Masters degree the School of Visual Arts in New York, has created a speculative recorder designed to resemble a transparent radio that would allow inmates to document their experiences covertly. Recording devices and opaque electronics — that could potentially allow for smuggling contraband — are typically banned from prisons.

“Hypothetically, a prisoner could record his or herself speaking alone in their cell or, in the event of a verbal or physical altercation with a correctional officer, could activate the record function and capture audio of the interaction,” she told Fast Company, adding that recordings (made by pressing one of the radio’s dual-function buttons) could potentially be used as evidence in a courtroom.

While “Chronicle,” is only a theoretical product that Mezhibovkaya acknowledges would likely face implementation challenges, she’s been so far successful in her goal of advocating for prison reform while showing “how design can foster compassion.” Other elements of her thesis include an envisioned social mapping app and platform used to plan and facilitate inmate releases for the purpose of a seamless readjustment.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons find that the number of “serious assaults” on inmates is down in minimum, low, and medium-security prisons, though the same can’t be said for those in high-security facilities, or for assaults deemed “less serious” across the board.

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That said, it’s a widely-accepted fact that prison assaults and injuries are underreported, as can be highlighted in the case of one Oklahoma jail uncovered this past summer, or in how a 2014 study indicated that prison guards could be responsible for half of all sexual assaults occurring in prisons.

Plus, there are other now-publicized instances, like the death of Sandra Bland, which brought increased awareness to the issue of inmate mistreatment. In researching for her thesis, Mezhibovkaya spoke with formerly incarcerated persons that told her how guards employed abusive tactics, like denying inmates food and planting drugs on them before conducting searches.