Not long after joining NCCD nearly a year ago, I had the opportunity to participate in my first onsite work visit: to observe colleagues delivering safety-organized practice training to child protection supervisors in Albuquerque, New Mexico. A lifelong Midwesterner, it was my first time in the state; the people were kind, the landscape was breathtaking, and the food was deliciously spicy.
Since the 1980s, the number of incarcerated Americans has exploded. During that time period, the number of incarcerated women has increased at a rate nearly double that of incarcerated men, making women the fastest-growing population in prison.
When I was a kid growing up in the Midwest I learned about four oceans: the Atlantic Ocean off the East Coast, the Pacific Ocean out by California, the Arctic Ocean in the frozen North, and the Indian Ocean on the other side of the world. This made sense because it helped orient me on a globe, but it also seemed a little suspicious: Where did one ocean end and another begin?
Expanding Wisconsin’s prisons is the wrong way to address the growing prison population. Department of Corrections (DOC) Secretary Jon Litscher is right about the need for relief, but increasing prison space—as he proposed in October—is a shortsighted and costly approach.
More than 53,000 people in Texas, and more than 1.5 million nationwide, live today under a court-ordered guardianship, with their basic rights—like deciding where they live, how they spend their money, and who they see—entrusted to someone else. It’s a tremendous power wielded by judges who must quickly untangle intra-family politics, and then monitor the guardianship for signs of neglect or abuse.
According to a compilation of data collected by the Scripps-Howard News service, from 1980 to 2008 close to 185,000 homicide cases in the United States went unsolved, and the data showed major disparities between the resolution of cases involving black and white victims. From 1990 until the near present, about 29% of the killings of white men and boys went unsolved compared to 38% of killings of black men and boys. There was also a disparity between the number of unsolved homicides involving black adult female and white adult female victims, and thus a disparity in justice itself.
Advocates for curbing mass incarceration have succeeded in transforming the issue from a niche topic into a mainstream political movement. The movement has called out racial disparities in the system, the long-term effects on entire neighborhoods over generations, and the profiteering by private companies that get rich when people get locked up—among many, many other overlapping and intersecting issues. In 2013 I joined a campaign at the advocacy film company Brave New Films to make films tackling these issues. We and our partners made progress.
More than any other medium, documentary film has the capacity to open hearts and change minds. We came to realize this through our previous film, The Dhamma Brothers, the story of a group of prisoners inside a maximum-security prison in Alabama who embark on a deep spiritual journey. These heartfelt stories of prisoners in search of inner peace and freedom while locked inside a prison evoke a universal dilemma recognizable by all. The viewer experiences a sense of shared humanity with the men who came to be known as the Dhamma Brothers.
Three years ago, City Limits started an internship program for high school and college students (or young people of college age) from the Bronx. The program, launched with the help of the Simon Bolivar Foundation and supported now by the Pinkerton Foundation, had three goals: provide paid work experience in the borough with the highest unemployment in New York City, introduce participants to the basics of investigative journalism, and produce stories that highlight underreported problems in the Bronx.