What is ‘Incorrigibles’?
is a transmedia project that collects and shares the stories of ‘incorrigible’ girls in the United States over the last 100+ years—beginning with New York State. We engage people from all walks of life in conversation, reflection, learning, and activism. The project honors the lives and personal narratives
from women in “the system” lifting them up to reconsider, challenge, and disrupt the institutional histories of training schools, industrial schools, and other state-run reformatories in order to recover, preserve, interpret, and present the memories of what took place in those institutions.
What do we do?
Using public history, social practice art, and new media technologies, we integrate community knowledge with more traditional forms of art and historic preservation. Through a variety of creative, educational, and participatory activities, we build safe spaces where people from diverse backgrounds – women who were incarcerated when they were young, self-identified girls today, and community members – can investigate the history and present state of youth justice and social services for girls in order to imagine and plan for new futures. As a deep part of this process we investigate, reformulate, and reclaim the language used over time to define and confine girls.
- To build a national archive of stories from women incarcerated when they were young at state-run institutions throughout the US
- To honor and preserve the lives and voices of women who were incarcerated in their youth
- To use the past to shed light on the present through art, media, and storytelling
- To understand and support the needs of self-identifying young women and their families today
- To investigate, reformulate, and reclaim the language used over time to define and confine girls.
- To expand awareness and influence the discussion around juvenile incarceration both in the press and through exhibitions and community workshops and roundtables.
Who are we?
- To see youth incarceration ended, prisons for all youth closed, and community solutions and opportunities implemented
- To see the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse abolished nationwide
- To obtain justice for girls and women who were abused at these institutions
Our team includes artists, activists, journalists, software developers, storytellers, public historians, oral historians, sociologists, teachers, lawyers, archivists, and criminologist, led by Alison Cornyn, Project Director of Incorrigibles.
Learn more about our current team.
Where do we present our work?
We present our investigations in a traveling exhibition
, online and a sequence of community engagement events
. We also present our work in conferences, panels, publications, and installations in art and cultural institutions. We use all these forums to reflect on the political and cultural context of our work.
How are we funded?
Incorrigibles is supported by individual donations and by academic, humanities, technology, media and arts grants
We also receive income from commissioned interviews, and from exhibitions. All income generated through these activities is used to support ongoing research, story collection, outreach and public events.
Where did we start?
The project began while studying archival documents
from the New York State Training School for Girls which operated from 1904 to 1975. Research is now expanding to include other state-run detention centers for girls in the US and to record and share accounts of women alive today who were confined in these institutions. We bring together experts around youth justice for girls to create a repository of ideas and resources with historians, lawyers, artists, healers, and others, to encourage a critical analysis around youth detention and behavioral intervention.
Who do we work with?
We work with women who were incarcerated when they were young to listen and learn from their stories. We continue to work with organizations focused on rights for girls, ending girls and youth incarceration, human rights and legal organizations, courthouses and colleges, as well as activists and community groups around the US. Our partners provide collaborative planning and co-creation, as well as powerful outreach and networks that expand the reach and participation of their and our work and mission.
We routinely collaborate with local community-based organizations, as well as the media, academic and cultural institutions. We work with other artists, historians, archivists, and institutional researchers who share our mission to create a central archive for her/stories told by formerly incarcerated women.
What is the need for incorrigibles?
We connect people through art and story, and integrate individual experiences into larger networks of meaning and action in order to promote community-based solutions to support young women and families. Our growing oral history archive is the first to collect and preserve the stories and testimonies of women incarcerated at state-run institutions across the US in their youth, Many of these women are older and their stories are being lost. We have pioneered using oral history and story-telling as a way to connect self-identified girls with their incarcerated foremothers, for intergenerational exchange and to see how change is possible through an understanding of society and history.
Incorrigibles probes the history of at-risk girls and underresourced families by framing society’s choices about reform, punishment, and confinement. Incorrigibles has been marrying the art of history and memory to spoken-word arts. We will continue to amplify formerly silenced voices—expressed in visual and aural forms.
How do we measure success?
We look forward to the day when youth incarceration is a thing of the past though not a forgotten one. We measure our success in terms of becoming the center of a flow of information and pushing the boundaries of today’s conversations about youth incarceration and the quest to affirm and develop young women, rather than jailing and punishing them.
As we host the exhibition and community events, aggregate stories, and forge collaborations with local partners, success is measured by participation, attendance, feedback, and aggregation of stories. But the deepest success is immeasurable because existential and intimate; the internal transformation of someone who has found an intergenerational community of shared interest and experience; who is not alone.
How can we work together?
We welcome your collaboration, participation, and support.
You are looking for your records. How we can help.
- Add your story
- Spearhead research and story collection about the institution in your state
- Bring the traveling exhibition to your community
- Donate your time and talent
- Contribute financially with a tax-exempt donation
You are researching an institution. How we can collaborate.
- Guide your search for institutional records about yourself or a family member
- Provide a sample FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) letter for you to request records
- Share our reverse-engineering of Ancestry.com for census and genealogical records
- Create a portal on the Incorrigibles website for your
To learn from and engage with others about our work, we invite you to join us on Facebook
, and Instagram
. To listen to short clips from our oral history interviews, visit us on SoundCloud
. We also have a YouTube
channel where you can watch selections from our programming.
Press can be found here.