POV (Point of View), American television’s longest-running independent documentary series, launches its new season on Monday, May 23, 2016 at 10 p.m. (check local listings) with The Return, winner of the Audience Award at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival.
In 2012, California amended its “Three Strikes” law—one of the harshest criminal sentencing policies in the country. The passage of Prop. 36 marked the first time in U.S. history that citizens voted to shorten sentences of those currently incarcerated. Within days, the reintegration of thousands of “lifers” was underway. The Return examines this unprecedented reform through the eyes of those on the front lines—prisoners suddenly freed, families turned upside down, reentry providers helping navigate complex transitions and attorneys and judges wrestling with an untested law. At a moment of reckoning on mass incarceration, what can California’s experiment teach the nation?
“‘Three Strikes’ was sold to the public as a way of locking up the ‘worst of the worst,’ but its ultimate effect was to incarcerate more than 10,000 people—for life —for crimes as petty as trying to steal a car radio, possessing $10 worth of meth or purse-snatching,” said filmmakers Kelly Duane de la Vega and Katie Galloway.
“Many of those we interviewed came from families struggling with mental illness and drug addiction. Because African Americans and Latinos receive disproportionately longer sentences than whites, most were people of color, people who needed support, not incarceration.”
In the U.S., African American males have a 32% chance of being incarcerated over the course of their lives, compared to white males, who have a 5.9% chance. Between 1994 and 2003, the average time that African Americans served in prison for drug crimes rose by 62%, compared to 17% for white inmates.
Today, more than 1.5 million Americans are incarcerated in state and federal prisons, and more than 6.8 million are under some kind of correctional supervision. According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, approximately 636,300 prisoners are released back into communities every year.
About ‘The Return’ subjects:
Bilal Kevin Chatman (former prisoner)
Born in Los Angeles, Bilal Chatman grew up in San Jose, Calif. He attended high school and junior college there before beginning work in the logistics field. When the economy crashed in the 1980s, Bilal lost his job. Later, when the crack epidemic hit, he got swept up in drug addiction and dealing. He ultimately received a 150 years-to-life sentence under “Three Strikes” for selling $200 worth of drugs to an undercover police officer. In 2012, Bilal became eligible for release. He is currently married and works as the logistics supervisor for a major organization and oversees two campuses and 21 employees.
Chatman has been a panelist at a Capitol Hill screening with Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.). He travels the country speaking about the effects of mass incarceration on communities and individuals.
Kenneth Anderson (former prisoner)
Kenneth Anderson was sentenced to life in prison for a nonviolent drug offense under “Three Strikes.” He was released in March 2013 after 14 years. He currently lives in a reentry home in southern California and receives support from his ex-wife Monica Grier, his four grown children and their families.
Mike Romano, attorney
Mike Romano is the director and co-founder of the Stanford Justice Advocacy Project. He has been recognized as one of the top lawyers in California and has published several scholarly and popular press articles on criminal law and sentencing in the United States. As counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Mike co-authored the Three Strikes Reform Act of 2012 (Prop. 36) and Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act of 2014 (Prop. 47).
Susan Champion, attorney
Susan Champion is an attorney and fellow at the Stanford Justice Advocacy Project. For the past six years, she has been working with the Project on sentencing reform issues and has assisted with the development, drafting, planning and implementation of Prop. 36. She provides legal services to those serving lengthy sentences for nonviolent crimes and works with stakeholders and policy makers to address the disparities in our criminal justice system.