American Jail (2018) Movie Script

This programme contains
some strong language
I've been locked up ten...
It'll be ten years in January.
I grew up with a single mother
who was strung out on crack and,
Before I turned 12
I witnessed murders,
I was smoking, I was drinking.
I shot my first gun,
probably about 11,
and everything I was doing
was normal.
Everybody around me was doing it.
I never seen it as...prison as bad.
I never seen it as...
I seen it as part of that life.
This is what I was meant
to live life.
My father did it.
My uncle I'm named after did it.
My mother's brother did it.
My older brother did it.
This is what it is.
I know, I understand
what led me down this path.
Poverty is a problem.
It destroys families,
it creates a harsh reality
for one to live in.
So I like to say, um,
knowing that the odds
are against you,
use this rage for motivation.
Only then we'll be able to break
the vicious cycle of racism
and modern-day slavery, which is
dressed up as the justice system.
In my hometown of Easton,
Pennsylvania, nothing stood taller
than the jail on the hill.
Every family had been touched by it.
We all had tales of broken men,
in and out of lock-up.
I just assumed
I would end up there, too.
My childhood friend Tommy spent
most of his life in and out of jail.
When I heard Tommy
had committed suicide,
I wanted to know more about
a justice system that puts
so many black men behind bars.
The prodigal son, I climbed
into my car and headed home.
So, this is my house. Wow.
This is the house I grew up in.
So this corner here is where
I would catch the school bus,
and the first day I moved
to this house,
I was standing on the corner,
and the paperboy walked by
and called me a nigger.
I think it was the first time
someone called me a nigger,
and his mother said, "Don't do that,
"because those people
will burn our house down."
Back in high school,
my friends and I were already
skilled in trading narcotics,
breaking and entering...
We were taking what we wanted
from rich, white college boys,
unconsciously stealing back
what had long ago been taken
from us.
I always drove the getaway car.
My best friend Tommy rode shotgun.
We were young and smart,
rushing fast down roads leading us
closer and closer
to that ominous jail on a hill.
I left Easton for freedom,
while Tommy stayed,
trapped in the prison system.
Tommy's daughter, Jereca,
lived with him.
Every day,
he got Jereca ready for school.
He cooked all her meals.
Jereca was 15 years old
when her father committed suicide.
Now, with Tommy gone,
Jereca struggles to find a reason
to go on.
He died alone, by himself.
Like, I just, like, blacked out.
That's what traumatised me, I think.
It just didn't make sense.
Cos it was like,
I'd just talked to him.
He was just telling me what
he's going to cook when I get home.
I got his tattoo name on my arm.
So I feel like he's kind
of still with me,
like, he's still there.
I still talk to him.
Like, when I go to church, I feel
like I'm talking to him sometimes.
Of all my friends growing up,
Tommy had the most discipline.
He wasn't a thug.
It didn't follow that he'd be
the one who ended up
in so much trouble.
But that's the cruel catch
of the system -
it only takes one time.
And the more Tommy went to jail,
the more he started acting
like a thug.
They got to change this shit
around in here.
We've been locked up for hours.
23 hours for no...reason.
We can't go to the bathroom
locked up.
Lockdown, 24-7,
you know what I'm saying?
How many inmates are in this jail?
Currently, we have 746 inmates.
So, when you're over here,
it's a little tense, it's loud.
The hair on the back of your neck
stands up a little bit. Yeah.
You can even hear a housing out
at...not too far away
getting a little rowdy.
What's going on?
There are just... There's a few
individuals that may be having
a verbal altercation right now.
We have a few officers who are
going to go and check it out
right now and see
what's going on, you know.
So if anything would happen,
if we happen to have a fight
or anything,
just make sure you step to the side.
Although I knew the statistics,
seeing so many black men in cages
made me furious.
So when did you get in here?
I just got in today.
But I'm obviously familiar
with the system and how sometimes
corrupt it can be or, you know,
how messed up, you know,
it can be for something so small
to be something so big,
something so long-lasting, you know.
Tell me about the system.
Um, well, I mean, it just seems like
everything that you do, like,
no matter if you are a good guy,
you know, it's inevitable
to end up here.
It's been, you know,
such a long process, you know.
Just coming in and out,
and just being part
of the system now.
It's just like you feel like
you're never out.
You know?
Any recent suicide attempts?
No, ma'am.
Two years ago, Corday got a DUI.
He spent five months in jail
for driving under the influence,
then had to pay exorbitant
court and jail fees.
He missed one payment,
then seven police officers broke
down his door and arrested him.
This DUI process, for me,
has been two years.
You can be a good person, you know,
and it only takes one mistake
for you to be in system,
and once you're in, you're in.
Corday wants to leave and get
a fresh start elsewhere.
But he's trapped in Easton
because of an unending procession
of probation and court appearances.
I could've easily ended up
caught in the system.
Yeah, yeah, seriously.
Like, you know...
Like, one in every three
black men in America.
Man, talking to the choir right now,
because I understand
exactly what you're saying.
And that sucks, you know,
for it to be like that,
but, I mean,
it's the world we live in.
And you would think,
after years and years of,
you know, integration
and, you know, being equal
to, you know, the next guy,
the guy next to you,
it would change, but it doesn't.
Yeah. No. Yeah. Not at all.
Corday's story is
a lot like Tommy's.
I know it would have been my story,
too, if I hadn't got out of Easton.
I got out, but my friends didn't.
Growing up,
I was very aware of being different.
Long before I admitted
the truth to myself,
I bore the shame of
homophobic bullying.
I was called faggot in school
all the time.
My grandfather called me a sissy.
As young as I was,
I always knew no-one in Easton
would ever accept
this thing about me.
My safety, my very survival
depended on how well
I could hide my homosexuality
from everyone, even Tommy.
When I packed up and left home,
it was in search of other people
like me.
In the 1980s, every closeted kid
in every small town in America knew
of New York City.
When I left Easton,
I never looked back.
The irony is, homosexuality
may have saved my life.
We thank you, Lord,
for the resilience of
the human spirit.
For the resilience of this nation
that out of the ashes we rise.
Out of the dust, Father God...
Church was always a big part
of our life growing up.
Tommy played the drums in the band
and I sang in the choir.
My biological father was a deacon
from another church.
When my mother and father met,
they were both married
to other people.
They had an affair.
My father chose
not to acknowledge me as his son.
I felt abandoned by him.
After my mother left Easton,
I had no reason to go back.
Being there brings back
all the demons I thought
I'd left behind.
Hey, remember me? Hi.
Good to see you. I'm happy that you
came back to see everybody. You too.
I have a nephew
who's been incarcerated.
He's going to be in for 13 years.
You're a correctional officer?
Yes, yes. Wow. So where are you?
At Sing Sing Correctional,
in New York.
You're at Sing Sing? Yes, yes.
After church, I had lunch
with Tommy's family.
How many of you know someone
who has been in jail?
Who don't? Everybody! I do.
I've been in jail. I've been.
Yeah. Wait a minute,
you've been in jail? Yeah.
In the county jail?
Mm-hm. County, yeah.
Sent her...
Where did they send her at?
Mass incarceration has become
an accepted part of life for poor
people and black people in America.
It is so entrenched in
our nation's identity that we take
it for granted and accept it
as the norm.
Its roots are buried deep
in our troubled history.
When slavery was abolished
in America in 1865,
the United States Congress
created the 13th Amendment
to the Constitution,
which essentially redefined
the parameters of slavery.
Neither slavery
nor involuntary servitude,
except as a punishment for a crime,
whereof the parties shall
have been duly convicted,
shall exist in the United States.
This clause has allowed Americans
to continue to enslave black people
and poor people for over 150 years.
Today, America has the highest
incarceration rate in the world.
Our jails and our prisons are
mostly filled with poor people
and people of colour.
Hey, Paul. Roger.
Paul Wright, one of the most
important advocates
for prison reform, has himself
served time in prison.
I was...
I was imprisoned because I shot
and killed a drug dealer
during an armed robbery.
He tried to shoot me,
and I shot him.
And the point there was,
to get the point across to me
that I shouldn't be robbing
drug dealers,
they could have made that point
without 17 years.
And I was really surprised,
when I went to prison, at
basically the brutalisation,
that prisoners are subjected to.
And one of the things
I thought about then,
in 1990, which 27 years later
I still believe,
is that if Americans knew
what was happening in prisons
and jails, with their tax
money and in their name,
they would demand reform
and they would demand change.
The cost of running the criminal
justice system is also enormous
for the rest of us.
State governments pour money
into it, spending an average of 5%
of their local budgets
on correctional institutions.
The Federal Government
spends a whopping total
of 265 billion a year,
essentially paid for by taxpayers.
But the question is,
where does all that money go?
So, tell me what you do
and where we are.
So I'm the executive director
of the American Jail Association,
the only organisation worldwide,
that we're aware of,
that focuses exclusively on the men
and women who operate and work
in our nation's jails.
Right now we're on the show floor
of our conference.
This is where vendors showcase
their products and services
that are used in jails -
everything from clothing and
food to medicine,
to security systems...
If you run a jail,
it's like running a city.
Tell me about these chairs.
So one of the manufacturers, Norix,
produces furniture for jails,
for inmates.
Furniture like this,
made of plastic, so...
You can wash it down.
It can be easily maintained.
No sharp edges, no way to take
something apart
and make a weapon out of it.
It's a comfortable...comfortable
environment for an inmate.
We want to keep inmates comfortable.
That's not what I thought.
The private company, Norix,
is just one of many companies
that profit from
correctional institutions.
Last year, their revenue
was an estimated $22 million -
much of it from this industry.
I'm starting to see why this
$265-billion-a-year industry
makes it so hard
to change the system.
Basically, the United States
has done a good job of creating
a self-perpetuating
prisoner machine.
One thing to look at is their jobs
depend on mass incarceration.
And I think it was Sinclair Lewis
who said, "It's hard to explain
"something to a man when
his pay cheque depends
"on him not understanding."
To be fair,
it's not just private companies.
Yearly, $265 billion
of our taxpayer money
is spent keeping public
prisons and jails running.
Wages for correction employees
alone are 38 billion a year.
Health care costs are 12.3 billion.
And 2 billion is spent on food.
As it is, with all profiteering
factions of any bureaucracy,
no-one wants to lose
their piece of the pie.
When they call it
a prison industrial complex,
it really... I hate that term.
You hate that term? Right.
Why do you hate that term?
Because don't look at it that way.
I mean, we're not
manufacturing automobiles.
We're not... No-one profits from it.
Jails don't have shareholders.
We're not traded on Wall Street.
No, but the companies,
some of them...
The companies that are
a part of all of this.
$265 billion a year
in taxpayer spending means a sure
profit for companies like Securus,
who charge hiked-up fees
for prisoners to use phones
to call their loved ones.
You're smart and you're talented...
# Happy birthday, dear... #
For individual families,
it's not uncommon for them to pay
upwards of $500 on average a month,
but you're talking about the most
economically vulnerable families
in our society.
So they are being weighted with
the burden, not only of a loved
one who might have been
the primary breadwinner.
Now that breadwinner is gone,
and now the family in essence
being overly taxed at the tune...
OK, but we're talking
about a phone call.
We're talking about a phone call.
The fees that inmates pay
for everyday services
are several times what we pay
outside of prisons,
and companies like Securus continue
to see their profits rise
at the expense of disproportionately
poor and black inmates.
There are a number of companies
that profit from the poor,
that end up getting locked up.
Whether it be the telephone
companies that profit
from usurious telephone rates,
the companies that manage financial
flows to and from people in prison
and their families,
food-service companies...
There's a lot of money
to be made in this industry.
I'm also...
Complicit. Yeah. Yes.
In this particular account,
you have three mutual funds,
and we can look online,
see what those mutual funds
are invested in, and see if
they are involved in some way
profiting from
the prison system. OK.
So I'm looking for
Corrections Corp of America.
And there it is.
Yeah, it seems crazy, doesn't it?
It's so mind-boggling. Yeah. Mm-hm.
It's very warped.
It may be time to tell
your financial adviser
that there are certain issues that
you'd rather not be involved in.
Yeah. Yeah.
And to think that
I' investor in that...
is even more disturbing for me.
Because I keep going
to people and saying,
"Is this some giant conspiracy?"
And they're like, "No."
It's like, everyone...
It's just the way things are done,
so from the prosecutors to the DAs,
to the judges, to the magistrates.
Everyone... To the CEOs, to the...
They're just all part
of a system that works.
It's an industry.
Although, if you look back,
you know, ten or 20 years ago,
or longer, I think it was almost...
They knew kind of how it was
going to end up, right?
And they didn't scale that back.
I think there were concerted
efforts to not do anything
about what was happening.
Why do you think that is?
Institutional structural racism.
I think. I mean, that's
the only explanation I can see.
William G Otis is a law professor
and former federal prosecutor
who was recently nominated
by President Trump
to the United States
Sentencing Commission.
Oh, as a conservative I have,
you know, I have some misgivings
about government's effectiveness
and wisdom,
but government doesn't
get everything wrong.
Every now and again,
we'll get something right.
There are many more people
in prison now
than there were during the '60s
and '70s.
There are about 2.2 million people
in prison.
You get to mass incarceration
not because of rising crime levels,
or crimes that people
are committing.
But also by criminalising
more and more behaviour,
and more and more conduct.
So it took the United States
from 1776 to 1990 to lock up
its first million people.
Then the prison population doubled
between 1990 and 2000.
So it took us ten years
to lock up our second million.
In the 1990s, prosecutors began
prosecuting felony charges
at twice the rate they did before.
What they point out less frequently
is that we've gotten something
for that.
It's not a mistake.
And it's not just a happenstance
that we have so much less crime now
than we did in the early 1990s.
Why do you think America...
I'm trying to understand why America
has the largest incarceration rate
in the world.
Why do you think that is?
It's the crime rate.
That's what...
The crime rate affects us all,
all 326 million of Americans.
And if you want to avoid
it's actually easy to do so.
And you don't have to be a lawyer,
and you only have to know four
things to avoid incarceration.
Don't steal stuff,
don't cheat people
out of their property,
stay away from drugs,
and resolve your disputes
without violence.
If people follow those four rules,
the prison population in this
country will shrink to nothing.
We have widening gaps of inequality
in this country, and I view
mass incarceration
as a tool of social control.
What are they controlling?
Poor people.
I mean, the criminal justice system
in this country is literally...
Its only real function is containing
and controlling poor people.
What's the threat of poor people?
Social change and political change.
Poor men of colour in particular
are the foot soldiers of revolution
and change in the world,
and in this country they are
viewed as a threat.
CHANT: Freedom now!
Freedom now! Freedom now!
Our current incarceration crisis
has its ugly roots in the unrest
of the '60s and '70s.
John Ehrlichman,
counsel and assistant
to President Richard Nixon,
later admitted that...
And so that's what they did.
It's just the continuation
of the deprivation and oppression
that poor black people suffer
in this country
for the last 500 years.
What is needed is...
..the right parenting,
to teach the right values.
You know, I haven't met you
before today,
but I would bet a goodly chunk
of change that you didn't become
a successful person
and an independent film-maker
because your parents
just let you run wild
and didn't care
about checking your homework.
You avoid crime and you avoid
scrapes with the police
because your parents teach you
to respect other people,
to respect their right to be safe,
and to resolve your disputes
without violence.
And if you want money, go earn it.
Get a summer job.
Bill Otis' ideas are very popular
with the Trump Administration.
I will restore law and order
to our country.
And when you see these thugs
being thrown into the back
of a paddy wagon,
you just see them thrown in, rough.
I said, "Please don't be too nice."
Like when you guys put somebody
in the car,
and you're protecting
their head, you know?
The way you put their hand over...
Like, don't hit their head,
and they've just killed somebody,
don't hit their head.
I said,
"You can take the hand away, OK?"
Donald Trump has decided
that mass incarceration
is a good thing,
and we need to increase
the number of people in prison,
and increase prison sentences,
and turn back the clock
on prison reform.
Jeff Sessions, a relic
of the racially segregated
Jim Crow era from the South,
is leading the charge to lock them
up and throw away the key.
Today, I am announcing
that I sent a memo
to each of our United States
attorneys last night,
establishing a charging
and sentencing policy
for this Department of Justice.
But it is important to know that,
unlike previous charging memoranda,
I have given our prosecutors
discretion to avoid
sentences that would result
in an injustice.
Sessions has told federal
prosecutors to ask for the most
serious charges and harshest
sentences against defendants.
I think our issue is reducing crime.
I don't think we're trying to get
to a result beyond that.
I think that making sure
that families throughout America
are safe from the most violent
and dangerous criminals,
that is our number one priority,
and that's what we're focused on.
Opponents of mandatory minimums
or tough sentencing say
that it disproportionately
affects minority communities,
but what they don't mention is that
minority communities are the ones
most disproportionately
impacted by drug traffickers
targeting those communities.
And the crime in those communities,
they're the victims ultimately.
And that's what we're trying
to stop.
Tough on crime ultimately
benefits the communities
that are victimised
by crime the most.
What the Department of Justice
fails to acknowledge is that studies
have shown that prosecutors are
75% more likely to charge
black defendants with offences
that carry mandatory minimums.
Though minority communities
may be targeted, this does not
justify the fact that,
following conviction,
black defendants receive longer
sentences for similar crimes.
These racially informed micro
and macro aggressions only prove
that the prison system
is biased against minorities,
and even more biased against
poor communities of colour.
A recent study in San Francisco
found that blacks accounted
for less than 15% of stops,
but over 42%
of non-consensual searches,
even though whites were more likely
to carry contraband.
I get stopped all the time.
And when they stop me,
they say to me, the cop,
always says to me, the state
trooper always says to me...
"What do you do for a living?"
What role does race play
when the cops pull
over someone like me?
Race plays a role.
This is America,
race always plays a role.
If it's a white kid
in a rich white suburb
with a well-paid,
more sympathetic police department
that has to be more responsive
to rich community concerns,
absolutely the treatment
is different.
Policing is local.
The courts are local.
So all that matters.
And so again, we're talking
about systemic problems of income
inequality, of segregation.
Those problems are very real.
But it seems like we don't want
to focus on that.
Adam Foss is a former prosecutor
who is now one of the most outspoken
voices for criminal justice reform.
I saw this system playing out
that disproportionately affected
people that look like us,
and in a really, really
negative way.
I actually got caught
selling a lot of weed.
And I was doing it
across state lines,
so I was... It was a federal crime,
but I was caught by my father
in my driveway.
And I was adopted by white people,
and because of who he was, in terms
of being a respected community
member and a police officer,
nothing happened to me as a result.
I got out of that,
and then I just grew up,
and it didn't, you know...
It didn't happen when I was 19.
It happened when I was 25,
26, 27 years old.
Went to law school, and here I am.
Adam often meets
with a group of inmates.
Most of them have
life sentences for murder.
I was raised by an immigrant mother,
who came to America from Cape Verde.
None of that happened.
So by the age of 12,
I started selling drugs.
At 17, I was charged
with felony murder.
The day before my 21st birthday,
I was sentenced to a natural life.
My mother, she was as an addict.
My pops, he was never around.
And my stepfather...
He was real abusive to my mother.
So now I got this idea
that my family - my parents,
who were supposed to love me,
they don't love me.
And not knowing how to process
what was going on...
..led me to portray
that vio...or project
that violence on to others.
So I took a life.
But at this point,
I'm not the savage that I was
when I took this
young man's life. Right?
I'm educated, I'm civilised,
I'm dignified.
And at this point,
this sentence, man...'s having, like,
a reverse effect.
What's the point?
In prison, you are taught
to put on body armour
to keep people away and
to protect yourself, and... kind of lose yourself
in doing so because you have
to create...
this militant individual.
And I'm grateful for the mentors
that we have.
We start to see that forgiveness
is a real thing.
It's helped me to see
the positive things about myself...
..and to be able to enhance it... where I can also see
the positive things
in other individuals
who may not see it in themselves.
The names that they use -
killer, gang banger,
drug dealer, monster, nigger.
They deal with their feelings
by hating you... prejudging you,
and by labelling you.
And it's really, really easy
to do that...
..when we stick you as far away
from your community as possible,
behind walls that we can't see
over and neither can you.
I've been with them
for five years now,
and I've seen what prison has done
to them over the course
of that five years.
I mean, they've grown,
they've become men,
they've really atoned
through this restorative justice
process, but you can see
the patina of prison.
That's been five years.
Those guys have
another 50 to 60 to go.
Adam travels all over the country
trying to change
the way prosecutors think.
There are 2.2 million people
in jail and prison.
And despite making up only 14%
of the population,
African-Americans make up
almost half of that number.
It's not because African-Americans
commit more crime,
and it's not because
we're all a bunch of bigots.
It's because implicit bias...
..rules our decision-making.
Because we don't make decisions
based on data
and technology and things that
are giving us a feedback loop.
We make decisions based
on our life experiences
as individual prosecutors.
One visit to a homeless shelter.
One visit to a treatment centre.
One visit to
a domestic-violence shelter.
To understand that there are things
out there that we never learned
in law school.
The police, prosecutors, judges
and probation officers don't make
a dime off of prisons.
We have no incentive
to send people to prison.
The reasons that we do is that
that's the tool that we were told
will make us safer
and make people better.
Prison is a supply problem.
If they don't have the supply,
they can't run their business.
And they have no way -
no way of actually taking people
from the street and putting them
in the building.
It requires the police,
it requires prosecutors,
it requires judges, and it
requires probation officers.
The prison industrial complex
could not exist without inmates.
The entire prison industry would
collapse without large numbers
of people to incarcerate.
To keep this $265-billion-a-year
industry in place,
there needs to be a pipeline
to provide a steady stream
of new people.
People who are dispensable.
In the history
of forced labour in America,
those without power have often
looked different
from those in power.
Arresting those people
who don't have power
is the very first step
in filling jails and prisons.
When the police officer puts
the handcuffs on a young black man,
chances are he has entered
the door of no return.
The bureaucracy of
mass incarceration has grown
into a monster of many heads.
Locking up large numbers of people
began as a way to control black
activists during the civil rights
movement of the 1960s.
In the 1980s, black behaviours
were criminalised, as the war
on drugs focused on crack.
By the 1990s, with widespread
racist fear of super predators,
there were so many people
incarcerated that prisons
became an industry.
Now, that industry
has become so lucrative,
so far-reaching,
that the moral issue is complicated
by the financial issue.
After the shooting of Michael Brown
by a police officer in Ferguson,
the US Justice Department
They found that the local government
was using unnecessary fees and fines
in order to extract large amounts
of money from poor and black people.
This investigation found a community
where local authorities consistently
approached law enforcement, not
as a means for protecting public
safety, but as a way
to generate revenue.
The judge is the one
who administers the final push
in the prison pipeline.
Incarceration, you know,
it's sort of embedded
in our society.
That's sort of how we treat people.
What, you know, a judge who's
running for election
has to say when he's on the stump.
It's... You know, right?
And changing those is really hard.
The worst of the worst.
Rapists, murderers let off easily.
Being weak on criminals
is dangerous.
Bill O'Neill expressed
sympathy for rapists.
It's no secret that being tough
on crime looks good at election time
for a judge.
A recent study found
that the more TV election ads
there are, the more likely judges
are to rule against
criminal defendants.
Probation is another reason why
so many people are in jail.
Probation officers used to be
like social workers,
helping inmates make the transition
to life on the outside.
But over the last 20 years,
they've become more like
law enforcement officers.
There are so many people sitting
in jail for probation violations,
which a lot of the time
are not new crimes.
76% of prisoners who are released
are rearrested within five years -
many for probation violations.
So when you go on probation,
you have general rules
that you have to follow.
"Let us know where you live.
"Let us know what your phone number
is so we can contact you.
"Get employment. Get housing."
None of those things,
if I don't do them, are crimes.
If I choose to not have a job,
that's not a crime.
If I choose to hang out with
my friends, that's not a crime.
If I choose not to get
an education, or to... know, smoke weed,
those aren't crimes.
And yet, as a prosecutor
and as a probation officer,
if you do those things
while you're on probation,
I can send you to jail.
And that's...
That's a dirty little secret
that we don't talk about,
is how that functions.
I've met many others who are in jail
simply because they cannot afford
to get out.
This modern-day practice
of punishing people for being poor
is reminiscent of the inhumane
debtor prisons of the past.
What are you all...? Can I ask
what are you all in here for?
Well, I'm in for a DUI, my third.
And I'm getting out in five days,
but I've served a year.
A whole year.
This time, it's for
a second-offence DUI.
How about you?
I'm here because I owe
$545 to Domestics.
Is that like child support?
My case is being closed,
but I lost my job before I could
pay the last payment,
and I'm here for six months now.
That's just backwards.
It's a crooked county, I think.
It's a crooked county? Yep.
Northampton is all
about their money.
You owe them $5,
you better give them their $5.
I was working.
My living situation got messed up.
I got kicked out.
I had to quit my job,
and now here I am.
Over $545 on a case
that's going to be closed
as soon as I leave here.
I think most people don't know
about the criminal justice system.
Right? They don't know.
They're not paying attention.
They don't care because
it's happening to somebody else,
and often the person is
a different skin colour
or ethnicity than they are.
And they just think,
"They did something wrong.
"All bets are off."
But I also think,
if you talk to people and say,
"Should you be paying for all your
life for one disorderly conduct?"
or, you know, "Should you be in jail
off-and-on for several years
"for writing one bad cheque or not
returning a Blockbuster movie?"
Nobody believes that.
What's the motivation
to keep the numbers up?
You know, here's the thing.
There's not one person
who controls those numbers, right?
The path to jail is made up
of decisions
by lots of different people.
Most of the time,
not in coordination with each other.
So, suddenly, the jail is full.
It's a cruel cycle that often
supplements the budgets of local
governments as they extract
unnecessary fees from people
who can't afford to pay.
As a person on probation, you pay
the government to be supervised.
So it was $65 a month
when I was a prosecutor.
I think it's up to 90 at this point.
But when you're a young black male
who has no employment opportunities,
and you have kids,
and you have no education,
and you're caught selling drugs
to make money,
you go through all this stuff...
We make it harder for you to get a
job, harder for you to get a house,
harder for you to get
any financial aid,
harder for you to get services...
And then you have to pay for that.
And so what do you think
is going to happen?
How did we,
when we created this system,
think, "This will be a good way to
keep people from committing crime"?
When someone is convicted and moves
from jail to federal
or state prison,
the government now has legal access
to them as a workforce.
These prisoners work
for almost nothing,
making road signs or mattresses,
or just about anything
the government decides.
The Eastern Correctional Facility
is one of the oldest prisons
in New York.
Here, many of the prisoners
are enrolled in a prison-labour
programme where the inmates work
for far below minimum wage.
Some people see these programmes
as a good thing -
training inmates for skills they
can use when they're released -
while others see it
as modern-day slavery.
Many of your speed-limit signs,
your stop signs,
your no U-turn signs,
all the road signs
you're seeing as you drive
down the road on any typical
they make many of them right here.
So what do they get paid?
The pay rate ranges
from about 15 cents an hour
up to 65 cents an hour.
What's the sort of motivation
for not paying them minimum wage?
Well, uh...
Wage and inmate pay rate
is set by regulation.
But you have to understand,
a minimum-wage employee
in the community, that's assuming
that they're meeting
all the financial demands of
perhaps maintaining a household,
a family, and all the attendant
fiscal responsibilities there -
the purchasing of groceries,
the housing costs,
transportation costs,
health-care costs.
For an inmate who's incarcerated
in a correctional facility,
those costs are not realised
by the inmate.
For time spent within the penal
system, inmates will accumulate
fees averaging $13,600.
Their families suffer
huge financial losses in lost wages.
By the age of 48, a former inmate
will have earned $179,000
less than someone
who has never been incarcerated.
Every time that prisoners have gone
to court seeking to be paid
for their labour, seeking to be
compensated for their labour,
the court's response is,
"You're slaves,
you're slaves of the state."
Those are the exact words of
court after court after court
for the last 120 years.
Prisoners are slaves of the state,
and as such they're not entitled
to any compensation at all.
I read in Prison Legal News that
companies like Victoria's Secret,
Whole Foods and Starbucks
have used prison labour.
Paul Wright exposed those stories.
What percentage of prison labour
is corporate America?
It's actually pretty small.
I mean, I think that, you know,
this may be bad for your story,
but the reality is that there is,
at any given time,
there's around 5,000
to 6,000 prisoners employed
by the private sector
in this country.
But the truth is
most prisoners aren't working
for private companies.
They work for the government.
Cheap labour keeps
the prison system running.
So what are they doing?
They're doing...
Primarily what prisoners do
is they run the prisons,
so anything that prisoners...
Anything that has to get done
in a prison,
unless it's security-related,
usually prisoners are doing it.
So they're doing plumbing,
they're doing maintenance,
they're doing custodial
and janitor services,
They're cooking food,
they're serving food.
Literally anything you can think of
that is needed to run
a prison, prisoners do.
So the prison saves a fortune
by making the prisoners
run the prison?
Millions, tens of millions, yeah.
They save tens of millions?
There was a GAO report in 1993
that said it would cost prisons
hundreds of millions of dollars more
each year to pay prisoners
minimum wage
for the work that they did.
So prisons are saving hundreds
of millions of dollars
by employing prisoners.
And when we crunched the numbers,
we found that the median wage
in state prisons was 20 cents
an hour, the median wage in federal
prison was 31 cents an hour,
and in a number of states
they don't pay a thing at all.
What? Yeah. Oh, yeah.
In Texas, Georgia,
Arkansas and Alabama,
prisoners are not paid
for their work at all.
And in some places,
they're required to work
under threat of disciplinary action.
If they say, "No, I'm not going
to work," they can write
you up for that, they can send
you to solitary for that...
That's... Now, that's slavery.
In the prison-labour debate,
we rarely hear from inmates.
What do you say when people say,
"Oh, they shouldn't have labour
programmes in prisons"?
No, I don't agree
with that whatsoever,
cos, look, I can be out there
just walking the yard,
you know what I'm saying?
I could be out there just angry,
but this is a buffer.
This gives me an incentive,
you know what I'm saying?
To want to do the right thing,
to do something different.
The pay can be a lot better.
I'm pretty sure
someone's making money off it.
You know? They just going to pay
you what they feel that needs
to be paid.
Once you're arrested, you have
to wait in jail until trial.
Unless you pay bail.
Tommy's sister Susie told me
that bail was a huge financial
burden on their family.
I understood more
when I saw how bail works.
The court sets bail,
and if you pay it,
you get to go free until your trial.
But the average bond amount
is $55,000.
That's more than a year's wages
for most people.
Most states in this country
have what's called a right to bail.
That's been perverted in two ways.
The first is that money has become
not just the primary but almost
the only way
that people can get out of jail.
And so the number of people
who are sitting in jails
across the country
because they can't afford bail
is really, really depressing.
What you can do is, if a bail
is set that you can't afford,
you can go to a bail bondsman,
and the bail bondsman
will front you the money.
So say a judge sets your bond at,
you know, $50,000,
you know, the average person
doesn't have that kind
of money lying around.
They might, however,
have $5,000 lying around,
so if you can pay a bail bondsman
10% of your bail,
they will front you the rest.
Almost every state
has a bail-bond industry,
and what happens is these bail
bondsmen form very powerful lobbying
interests, and they will...
They will lobby at the state house.
So any time the issue of bail reform
comes up, you can be sure that
the bail bond industry's lobbyists
are there, pushing to maintain
the money bail system how it is.
From 2002 to 2011,
the bail lobby spent $3.1 million
to influence lawmakers.
It makes sense why the bail lobby
wants to stop reform.
Arrested people pay over 1.4 billion
a year to the bail industry.
That's over $1 billion
annually being sucked
out of mostly poor communities.
I'm not so crazy as not to know
that you've already figured out
that if I can talk you
into doing this bill,
my clients are going to make
some money on the bond premiums.
Like, instead of playing with dolls
and having a normal little-kid
childhood, like I wish
everybody else could have,
I used to, like, have to hide beer
and, like, beg the cops
not to take my dad and...
It was bad.
So I used to, like, cry so they
didn't take my dad, and then...
Cos when they took my dad,
me and my brother were just like...
Like, it was just...not...
I don't know how to explain it.
It's like, I don't know,
I don't know.
I don't know, it was bad.
So how much time did
Tommy spend in jail?
A lot. A lot.
Tommy... Like, every month,
every couple of months?
It was more than every month.
So the jail never got him
any help or treatment,
they would just throw him in jail.
They'd just throw him in jail.
But what they did was they put him
in what they call a bubble up there.
If they think you're suicidal,
and I guess they put you in a paper
gown, and you're up there,
and there's other people
in the prison are in there,
they can walk past and see
you there. This is in Northampton?
In Northampton County.
But he was in there
for quite some time,
they kept him medicated.
He was so medicated
that a lot of times,
he didn't know his name
if you called it.
But this went on for years.
It went on literally for years.
If Tommy were alive,
it would break his heart to see
what is happening
to his daughter, Jereca.
She has missed so much school
that she might have to drop out.
The psychological trauma
of jail isn't just shouldered
by the person in prison.
The families of the incarcerated
bear much of it, too.
Watching Jereca weep for her father
triggered a deep well of sorrow
I shoulder as a black person
living in America.
The system exploited Tommy.
He might still be alive
if the courts were designed
to rehabilitate instead
of criminalise.
One of my best friends
from high school, Tommy.
Tommy spent his whole life
in and out of the county jail.
He never got any treatment,
and I didn't understand
how that could happen,
and I wonder how many other
Tommys there are.
You're right, there's a lot
of Tommys out there.
They should not be spending time
inside of our institutions.
They need to be inside of hospitals
where help can be provided.
Mental illness is real,
and is a real problem
inside of our jails.
In Miami-Dade, 62% are classified
with some type of mental illness.
So if we figure out a way
to treat that issue,
or divert them to the proper
resources in the community,
then our numbers go down,
and we can better service
those inmates that are inside
of our system for something
other than that.
That's a massive number,
and I had no idea.
Jails serve... They serve a need
because there are ills
in our community -
we understand that.
And there are some bad people
out there, I get that.
But not everyone
needs to be in jail.
I mean, jail should be the last stop
for an individual,
who we've exhausted
all means as a society.
And, you know, if you look at it
just from dollars and cents,
would you prefer to pay a jail
system $200 a day in order to house
this person, and then returning them
back to you within a matter of days
sometimes, or would you prefer
to spend your money
on a diversionary programme,
or a mental-health scenario,
where they can get the treatment
and they'll never end up
in that street again?
So it's costing us money.
It's costing you money.
I would argue that it costs you
more money to house the wrong
person inside of a jail system
than to get that same
individual treatment.
It's kind of like,
you must have the only job
where if there's...
If you guys are out of work,
it's probably a good thing
for society.
Absolutely, absolutely.
Isn't that kind of weird?
That'd be a pink slip
I'll gladly accept.
How much of your job,
when you were a police officer,
did you spend dealing
with mental-health issues,
people with mental-health issues?
SIGHS: A significant part.
I mean, sometimes it's hard to tell,
especially when it overlaps
with alcohol and with drugs,
but also just general family crises.
I wish police didn't have to deal
with people in mental crisis.
Yes, cops could and should be better
trained in dealing with mental
issues, but at some level
I don't think that should be
the officer's job.
The idea that we've even equated
mental-health care and its link
to mass incarceration is, again,
another moral strike against us
as supposedly civilised,
humane people.
Can you imagine a worse
treatment programme than jail?
The correlation between
mental illness and incarceration
is truly frightening.
Starting in the 1970s,
the numbers for mental
hospitalisation plummeted,
while the incarceration rate
of people with mental-health
issues skyrocketed.
It shouldn't be the responsibility
of the justice-system actors anyway
to be the primary,
the first responder for people
with mental illness,
for people who are self-medicating
with alcohol or drugs because of
depression or trauma
or all this kind of stuff.
It shouldn't be the criminal justice
system, but that's what we've got.
And so a lot of the work
around reform is, how do we make
that system better at spotting those
folks and finding alternatives
to get them out?
The name my mother gave me,
been replaced...
..with a stock number.
So we ask, does slavery still exist?
The amount of punishment crosses
a threshold and becomes vengeance,
and when it crosses that threshold,
it starts to impact us in a way
that was not the intent.
I'm no longer sorry,
I'm no longer remorseful.
Now I'm angry, and my anger
manifests in violence,
and now I'm worse than I ever
was when I came in.
What is the jail for? Right?
Come to a decision,
then say, all right,
let's look who we've actually
caught in that jail.
And if those don't match up,
how do we get those people out?
And so there are a whole bunch
of things that can be done at each
of these decision points.
Up to a certain point,
incarceration deters crime,
and then after that point,
it either doesn't deter any further
crime, or in fact it
causes more crime.
We seem to spend a lot of time
and money trying to make people
a lot worse, and I think that comes
down to one of the core things is,
I think, the real purpose
of American prisons
is really to destroy people,
destroy them as individuals,
destroy them as functioning members
of society.
I'm terrified of what the criminal
justice system will look like
after this administration is done.
I think it is imperative that people
in power hear stories like Tommy's
or Corday's, or any of the men
in the restorative
justice programme.
I keep coming back
to the jail on a hill.
It breaks my heart to know that,
all over America, countless black
people, countless poor people,
without the power to decide
their own fate, are cuffed
and carted up a hill
to be disappeared from public view.
Inside, they are stripped
of their dignity and denied
their humanity.
The cumulative cost is enormous -
in lost dollars, in lost opportunity
and lost lives.
If we allow this cruelty to take
place away from our gaze,
we compromise our humanity.
If we're able to look at it as
it is happening and do nothing,
we become inhuman.
We cannot turn away
from what we have done.
To find out more
about modern-day slavery, go to...
..and follow the links
to the Open University.