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2019 Excellence and Innovation in Visual Digital Storytelling, Small Newsroom finalist

Banished

About the Project

At dawn in Miami, a 24-hour game of human whack-a-mole begins anew. Homeless sex offenders pack up camp and roam the city. At night they search for a campsite while police track and often evict them. In Banished, The Marshall Project has created an immersive experience that takes the reader onto the streets of Miami-Dade County, Florida, to ask: What does it mean to live in a society that no longer wants you?

Miami’s sex offender problem briefly became international news around 2010, when a spit of land under a highway overpass became home to 100 men who couldn’t find anywhere else to live. County commissioners, embarrassed by the debacle at the Julia Tuttle Causeway, moved to clear the camp and amend the housing restrictions. But reporters Beth Schwartzapfel and Emily Kassie were surprised to discover that almost a decade later, the problem had only worsened. There were now five times as many homeless sex offenders playing an exhausting cat-and-mouse game with police every night, and additional laws and restrictions have made it impossible for them to live almost anywhere.

Reporting the story wasn’t easy. To earn the trust of the men at the heart of their story, Beth and Emily repeatedly traveled to Florida, spending many days in their encampments and witnessing the rhythms of their lives. They reported and filmed at dawn when the offenders’ curfew lifts and groups of men pack up their tents and return to families, go to work, or spend the day attempting to charge their GPS monitors and ankle bracelets. And they were with the men each evening as they returned to the few street corners where they are still permitted to sleep. Finally, they documented the brewing legal battle over their fate, meeting both the sex offenders’ public interest lawyers, as well as the powerful lobbyist whose own daughter’s abuse animates his mission to ensure that society permanently shuns these men.

Deftly integrating text and video, Banished reveals the day-to-day reality of people considered irredeemable and undeserving of second chances. Three short documentary episodes—which include a ride-along with the police, a look inside the tents of offenders and interviews with policymakers—are woven through the deeply reported narrative using scroll and fade techniques with immersive photo experiences. An interactive map allows viewers to explore the geographical restrictions at a state and local level, and the reader’s progress is marked by a rising and setting sun in the top right corner, allowing them to both sense how far along they are in the story and where they are in the cycle of the offenders’ day. By blending film vignettes, interactive data visualization and haunting photographs, the innovative design pulls the viewer into these men’s lives and shows their desperation and futility of circumstance. The unsettling conclusion is that while it’s easy to see why society might want to exile these men, it’s hard to see how widespread homelessness makes good public policy.