After viewing this documentary, I felt frustrated and a bit surprised to see the reality of today’s prison. It was eye-opening to look at the implementation of the thirteenth amendment, observing the intersection of race and justice in the US. The tension only climbs up with the current riots happening around the country as the hidden racism in the criminal system is revealed for millions to see. The most principal factor that allowed to replicate the events of the past 150 years is a personal mentality, formed over the years of historic misrepresentation of such concepts as race and justice.
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The film exhibits the flaws of our criminal justice system and the shortsightedness of the political situation. Brutal statistics and real-life examples portrayed over 150 years of American history prove that mass incarceration and oppression of minor communities is still topical, despite the legal bills against it. Such findings suggest that personal bias among legislators and public authorities is overwhelming, leading to poor judgment.
The movie added to my understanding of the prison system by explaining the concept of penal labor. Never before did I think of it as a form of involuntary servitude compared to slavery. Regardless of the race of the convicts, the duly legality of involuntary servitude seems horrifying and cannot be justified by the commonly used motive of using labor as a transformational tool. Innovative solutions need to be found to eradicate the permit of penal labor, limiting the rights of American citizens.
Several facts altered my pre-existing views about the prison and criminal justice systems. First, I was struck by the fact that the US prisoners make 25% of the entire world’s number of convicts (Carolina Justice Policy Center, 2017). Second, the timing of the 13th amendment seems questionable. Ratified right after slavery was prohibited in the South, the 13th amendment allowed to use of millions of Afro-Americans convicted for minor crimes to rebuild the economy. Third, I never thought about the manipulative offer delivered to the criminals (Carolina Justice Policy Center, 2017). One can either go to trial at the risk of losing and being imprisoned for dozens of years or making a plea and going to jail for a shorter term. Scared for their future, many people do not even take a chance to win their case, serving the term unfairly.
I was certainly surprised to explore more about the underpinnings of the legislative policies that became a product of the war on drugs. The portrayal of black people as heavy criminals in the Reagan times did not startle me. Though I always associated the term “war on drugs” with the Reagan presidency, I was unaware that Nixon was the first to use the expression (Carolina Justice Policy Center, 2017).
There is not enough funding, training, and objectivity in the current criminal justice system. The documentary shows enough evidence that police officers, as well as judges, still see color while delivering their services. More awareness should be raised about figures of authority to minimize the personal factor and achieve a higher level of care for the potential convicts.
As always, the events depicted in the documentary can be misinterpreted and used against minorities. However, it is important to understand that the purpose of the movie is to raise awareness and reveal hidden truths around the issues of justice, race, and mass incarceration. While the hostile climate and misdirected anger can be associated with watching the documentary, there is no causal relationship.
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Carolina Justice Policy Center. (2017). 13th: A lesson on race, justice, and mass incarceration. Web.