Directed by Ava DuVernay in 2016, the film 13th refers to the 13th Amendment of the United States Constitution. 13th characterize our criminal justice system and political institution and shapes a general understanding of today's prison system. Specifically, the film puts race at the center. The prison industrial complex is a system of mass incarceration alongside corporations that profit from such practices. With 2.3 million people in the prison population, the United States has the highest incarceration rate. By 1970 there were over 300,000 people in the prison system, and by 1990 over 1 million.
As a nation professing freedom through the 13th Amendment, America is in an era of mass incarceration of vulnerable citizens, creating a bias toward people of color. America has not ended racial caste by merely redesigning it through a system where wealth, not culpability, shapes outcomes. In essence, the 13th Amendment grants freedom to all Americans with the exception or loophole of being criminals, which is embedded through structural practices.
The prison system is portrayed through a corporate lens, presenting businesses operating in prisons and profiting from punishment. Specifically, fingers pointed to the American Legislative Exchange Council or ALEC, a political lobbying private "club" filled with politicians and corporate members pushing forward policies to increase the number of prisoners. Through the help of working with private prison corporations like Corrections Corporation of America or CCA, partnerships between prisons and correctional institutions make a multi-billion industry. As a result, the prison system is built off a corrupt scheme shadowing the system's original purpose, which is to facilitate rehabilitation.
The War on Drugs, coined by Ronal Reagan, also shaped an understanding of the prison system through the film. Crack cocaine took over African American inner-city communities. Thus, mandatory crack sentencing was harsher than powder cocaine. Black people were getting longer sentences for possession of crack, while White people got a slap on the wrist. Black communities disappeared into the prison system, and hyper-segregation in American cities emerged. The War on Drugs was indeed a rhetorical war on communities of color.
Additionally, the political affiliations of President Nixon and President Reagan's campaigns characterize our political institutions today. Black power movements led Nixon to feel compelled to fight back. As a result, he increased federal spending for local law enforcement, drug addictions were treated as a crime rather than a health issue, and "Law & Order" was the backlash of the Civil Rights Movement. With legislation like "Three Strikes and You're Out," and the 1997 Crime Bill, the prison system expanded, and corruption among police increased through incentivized strategies.
With American political culture manipulating race at the center, Black people were and will continue to be overrepresented in the news as criminals. As a result, people, specifically rich White folks, are thrown into a belief or context that all Black people are dangerous and should be afraid. In a way, the news representation justifies putting Black people in jail and creating the term super predator. We live in a nation that professes freedom, yet, there is hyper-incarceration of our more vulnerable citizenry and bias toward people of color. Thus, we as a society cannot ignore the reality of the political force.
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