What are your chances of going to prison? - Brave New Films
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What are your chances of going to prison?

If you follow Brave New Films you already know that the United States locks up more people than any other country on Earth. And you know that the 40-year-old War on Drugs has done nothing to decrease drug addiction.

But did you know your race determines your chances of going to prison?  That the incarceration of women is on the rise?  Or that there’s a pipeline that sucks kids in from school and deposits them behind bars at alarming rates?

That’s why Brave New Films has just released a playlist of short motion graphics that challenges your assumptions about mass incarceration.

 Racial bias in our justice system is too obvious to ignore, and has repercussions far beyond a prison cell.  Because felony convictions can limit your options for jobs, housing and education once you’re released, high incarceration rates in a community lead to higher rates of homelessness and unemployment.  And often, those situations leave people with few options to support themselves, except the criminal activity that got them in trouble in the first place.  Children of incarcerated parents are more likely to get in trouble with the law, so people living within those communities face a self-perpetuating cycle. 

As will come as no surprise, poor communities are hit hardest by this cycle.  These are the same communities who suffer when well-funded one-percenters like the Koch Brothers seek to undermine efforts to raise the minimum wage or cut programs like food stamps or Head Start.  Some of these communities have large populations of immigrants who are imprisoned or deported for a profit, tearing their families apart.

Worse, as we learned in our interview with former DEA Agent Matt Fogg, it’s not an accident that law enforcement only seems to bust down doors in certain zip codes.  In fact, that selective enforcement of the War on Drugs reminds us of an earlier era when laws existed specifically to punish poor people of color.

Meanwhile, the kids in communities all across the country are also facing incarceration through the School to Prison pipeline. Kids who act out are being treated like hardened criminals, all supposedly in an effort to keep schools safe.  But we know that kids who face incarceration are more likely to become adults who commit crimes, which means that these zero tolerance policies actually undermine safety in the long term.

Most kids act out because kids just sometimes act out.  Those who chronically act out often have something going at home that needs addressing.  Instead of trying to get at the root of the problem, schools rush to suspend, expel or even arrest kids.  We know that counseling can help kids avoid bad behavior in the future, but we turn a blind eye anyway.

Those root causes can sometimes be abuse or neglect in the home. Women make up over 70% of victims of domestic violence, and exposure to that violence as a child can often be the beginning of a long relationship with the criminal justice system. 

Take the story of Tammy, whose abuse by her stepfather led her to run away from home at age 11, get involved in street prostitution, abuse drugs and spend decades in prison. By the time we shot the documentary profiling her story, Tammy had received help from community mentors, re-established a relationship with her son and was on her way to finish school.  She’s not a person you could ever picture in prison. Yet, the number of women in prison has surpassed 200,000 and keeps rising.

There all kinds of bad incentives to keep our correctional system the way it is, from making money to the belief that victims always seek revenge. But what we must do is face is the larger culture of retribution that is most to blame.