According to the Sentencing Project, the United States prison population has increased 500 percent over the last 40 years. Of the 2.2 million Americans currently incarcerated, 60 percent are people of color.
Filmmaker Ava DuVernay explores this topic at length in her new thought-provoking Netflix documentary titled 13th. Through the lens of scholars, activists, politicians, and the incarcerated, the film analyzes the criminalization of African-Americans, the U.S. prison boom, and their connections to the 13th Amendment and the United States Constitution.
Many Americans do not realize that the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in America, but insidiously cloaked it in incarceration. The amendment reads as follows:
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
Roland Martin, host of NewsOne Now, spoke with two of the documentary’s experts about the film and the current issues surrounding mass incarceration in this nation.
Malkia Cyril, Founder and Executive Director for the Center for Media Justice, told viewers, “One of the powerful things about the film is that it reveals how the 13th Amendment is, in fact, the loophole that changed the location, but not the condition of slavery.”
Martin added throughout the history of this nation, America has “always used prison labor to drive commerce,” starting with slavery, then peonage, then what we see in the present day with mass incarceration.
According to Cyril, the United States is “the largest jailer in the world, is the largest jailer of children in the world – including placing children in solitary confinement,” adding the system of prison profiteering allows major corporations to “make big money off of jailing people.
“From the food industry to the telephone industry, we’re talking about big money being made here.”
Kevin Gannon, Historian and Professor at Grand View University, explained how difficult it is to get the word out: “It’s hard to convince mainstream public opinion that slavery still exists – unfreedom still exists. This is far more than people paying a debt to society for a crime that they may have committed or even not committed.
“In most cases what we’re seeing is the exploitation of this entire population in a kind of subterranean kind of way,” said Gannon.
Watch Roland Martin, Malkia Cyril, Kevin Gannon, and the NewsOne Now panel discuss Ava DuVernay’s new documentary 13th in the video clip above.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty