A New Documentary Examines How American Prisoners Are the New Slaves (Video)

“The 13th Amendment to the Constitution makes it unconstitutional for someone to be held as a slave. There are exceptions, including criminals.” That is but one of the many powerful statements shared in the trailer for a forthcoming documentary called “13th.” Directed by Selma‘s critically acclaimed director Ava DuVernay, it will premiere on Netflix on October 7 and take a deep dive into contemporary forms of institutionalized slavery found throughout the United States’s racially discriminatory criminal-justice system and prison-industrial complex.

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Ratified in 1865, the 13th Amendment reads in part “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,” but as history has shown, the “duly convicted” bar has been set pretty low. As Jay Z recently described in a New York Times mini documentary, an overwhelming amount of those incarcerated in America’s jail and prison systems are low level-drug offenders, non violent citizens who are disproportionately Black and Hispanic. Furthermore, those people are also the likeliest to get pulled over by police, given unjustifiably long sentences, and become victims of other forms of treatment that are at best unfair and perhaps even unconstitutional.

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As described by Netflix, the film will be centered on the text of the 13th amendment, following “the progression from that second qualifying clause to the horrors of mass criminalization and the sprawling American prison industry.” Activists, historians, and politicians provide searing testimonies alongside men and women formerly incarcerated, while archival footage provides a chronological map guiding viewers through America’s complex and questionable relationship to jurisprudence as it relates to race.

Incarceration rates in the U.S. have ballooned over the course of its relatively short history, and the country currently holds the dubious honor of housing 25% of the global prisoner population. In fact, conditions faced by prisoners today are so dismal, at this very moment the country’s biggest prison strike is taking place and earning next to no coverage in mainstream media.