As America Marks ‘Second Chance Month,’ Watch These 5 Netflix Films on Justice Issues
People with criminal records deserve a second chance, urges the White House. These five true-life films spotlight stories of building community and justice.
Weeks ago on Good Friday, President Trump recognized April 2018 as Second Chance Month — shining a spotlight on criminal justice reform. The U.S. currently represents 5 percent of the world’s population, yet 25 percent of all prisoners. Now policymakers are seeking to address the 650,000 Americans who annually rejoin society after serving a prison sentence.
“Unfortunately, two-thirds of these individuals are re-arrested within 3 years of their release,” stated the White House. The cycle of crime, poverty and recidivism does not have easy answers. Early this year, a coalition of policy groups announced the launch of Safe Streets & Second Chances. This bipartisan initiative will seek to rely on decades of evidence and encourage reforms that help people flourish.
Washington leaders have attempted to bring together both sides. Yet popular opinions on criminal justice often diverge along political party lines, ethnicity and past experiences. Could walking in someone else’s shoes help people find common ground? The power of real-life stories may help.
The following list presents diverse Netflix titles with insights into justice issues, while weeding out the more one-sided selections. With all reflecting on true stories, some feature profanity and adult situations.
1. The Return (documentary, 83 min., 2016)
The struggles of reentry into normal life are on display in The Return, telling the stories of several men finally released after years in prison. “The loss of the family, the shame, the stupidity of it,” says one inmate as he prepares to leave. “A 15-minute phone call is not enough to have a real relationship.”
The Return shows the aftermath of a policy change in California, known for its dire prison crises. In 2012, state voters opted to enable shorter sentences for prisoners. Following the lives of several men who reconnect with their families and seek new jobs, the film offers a window into realities rarely seen.
2. Long Shot (documentary short, 40 min., 2017)
Exceptional incidents often provide insight into larger dynamics at play. This brief documentary centers on a 24 year-old father and U.S. citizen making a living in Los Angeles. In 2003, Juan Catalan was accused of murder and arrested at work. Separated from his family in prison, Catalan has an alibi his lawyer pursues.
Can they prove Catalan and his daughter were attending a Dodgers baseball game? An incredible series of events involving a hit TV show and cell phone records reveal how evidence matters in the legal process. Remarkable interviews with a zealous prosecutor and a judge struggling to deliver a just verdict illustrate how personal these cases can be.
3. Undefeated (documentary, 113 min., 2011)
The future of a community is determined by its students. And a school’s direction is steered by teachers, leaders — and coaches. This Academy Award winning film charts the rise of an inner city football team in Memphis, Tennessee, spurred on by their driven coach.
Undefeated gets up close and personal with these high school players and Coach Bill Courtney, who serves as a father figure. Interviews with local journalists and parents highlight the difficult economic conditions these families face. The team wrestles through betrayal, injuries and other conflicts — lessons bigger than a game.
4. Reggie Yates, Outside Man: “Race Riots USA” (series, 55 min., 2017)
Few issues are more debated in American society than race relations. In this series, British TV personality Reggie Yates examines hot topics as an Outside Man. The second season episode “Race Riots USA” filmed in Ferguson, Missouri is of particular interest. “The feeling of pain is palpable,” he notes after visiting the community.
Yates walks through recent events with a young black man, observes police training and asks questions at a community rally to support law enforcement. While the facts of the tragic shooting are debated, insights result from allowing people of differing viewpoints to share their stories and emotions.
5. Flint Town (series, 8 episodes, 5 hours, 2018)
If any American city needs a second chance, it’s surely Flint, Michigan. Once boasting one of the nation’s highest per capita income levels, it has been reduced to a shell of its former self. Since lead poisoning in the water supply was discovered in 2015, a host of activists have used the city for their own causes.
How are local police managing these crises? That’s the question behind Flint Town, as a film crew embeds in the police department for over a year. With editing and storytelling a few steps up from COPS, the eight-part series invites viewers to get to know a few of the 98 officers policing a city of over 100,000 residents.
The water crisis looms over the series, as do the 2016 shooting incidents that occurred across the U.S. and the presidential election. It’s a fascinating look at how police-community relations are multifaceted … and issues of trust not easily solved.