Downloads: Press Release
What does it mean to have a life sentence suddenly cut short? Film examines how the historic reform of California’s “Three Strikes” law has affected prisoners, families, lawmakers and American society
A co-production of American Documentary | POV and ITVS
“Vividly captures the psychological as well as logistical difficulties of re-adjusting to civilian life…
‘The Return’ underlines that at least as much care should be put into the process of de-institutionalizing offenders as goes into institutionalizing them in the first place.”—Dennis Harvey, Variety
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?
The Return, winner of the Audience Award for Documentary at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival, kicks off the new season of POV (Point of View) on PBS on Monday, May 23, 2016 at 10 p.m. (check local listings). Now in its 29th season, POV is American television’s longest-running independent documentary series and the recipient of a 2013 MacArthur Foundation Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.
The directors, Kelly Duane de la Vega and Katie Galloway, have spent much of their careers making films about the criminal justice system in the United States. In The Return, they follow newly released prisoners Bilal Chatman and Kenneth Anderson and the people who supported them on their paths to reentry, including attorneys Mike Romano and Susan Champion of the Stanford Justice Advocacy Project.
“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,” say Duane de la Vega and 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. People who were locked up due to bad policy based on fear, without any understanding of structural barriers they faced.
“After decades of inhumane criminal justice policies, we stand now on the precipice of change. Bipartisan lawmakers are calling for sentencing reform and uniting around legislation that prohibits employers from demanding that applicants disclose criminal records. Businesses are beginning voluntarily to ‘ban the box.’ We sincerely hope the film will inspire further efforts to correct the terrible injustice of misguided sentencing law.”
About The Return subjects:
Bilal Kevin Chatman, former prisoner
Born in Los Angeles, Bilal Chatman moved to San Jose, Calif., as a child with his single mother and three brothers. He attended high school and junior college there before beginning work in the logistics field. When the economy crashed in the 1980s, Chatman lost his job. Later, he got swept up in drug addiction and dealing during the crack epidemic. 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, Chatman 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. 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 the Three Strikes law. 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 articles on criminal law and sentencing in the United States. As counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Romano 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 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 policymakers to address the disparities in the U.S. criminal justice system.
About Three Strikes Laws
First introduced in the 1990s, Three Strikes laws (also referred to as “Three Strikes and You’re Out” laws) were initially framed as a means to prevent crime by keeping habitual violent offenders off the streets. Though they vary by state, Three Strikes laws generally enforce harsher sentences for crimes committed by individuals who have had two prior offenses, or “strikes.” The effectiveness and fairness of these laws have been hotly contested since their inception.
California instituted its version of a Three Strikes law in 1994, after the tragic murders of two children, Kimber Reynolds and Polly Klaas, by men who had histories of violent crimes. The law mandated that a person convicted of any crime, violent or nonviolent, serve twice the term required for the crime, if they had a previous conviction for a serious or violent felony. Any offender with two strikes already on their record would be sentenced to 25 years to life for any committed felony, violent or not.
In November 2012, voters amended California’s Three Strikes law with the passage of Prop. 36, which states that, in order to qualify as a third strike incurring a sentence of 25 years to life, the offense must have been a violent crime. Additionally, the new law allows an offender who was sentenced to 25 years to life under the original Three Strikes law to petition for a reduction in sentence or release, if the third strike offense was a nonviolent crime.
Nationally, the recidivism rate of for those released from state prisons in the year following their release is 43.4%. In California, the recidivism rate for those released through the passage of Prop. 36 is 1.3%.
About the Filmmakers:
Kelly Duane de la Vega, Director/Producer/Writer
Kelly Duane de la Vega’s documentaries have screened at film festivals worldwide, opened theatrically across the country and been broadcast nationally on POV and the Documentary Channel. Her work has received the Writers Guild of America’s Award for Best Documentary Screenplay, Gotham Independent Film Best Documentary Award and multiple national Emmy® nominations. Better This World (POV 2011) won Best Documentary Feature awards at the San Francisco International Film Festival and Sarasota Film Festival, received an International Documentary Association Creative Recognition award and screened at MoMA’s Documentary Fortnight. Her film Monumental screened nationally, was acquired by the Smithsonian for its permanent collection and is used by more than 50 universities internationally.
Duane de la Vega has produced powerful short-format work for The New York Times Op-Docs series, Mother Jones, IFC and Discovery, among others. A Sundance and HBO/Film Independent fellow, she has guest lectured at various universities and taught documentary forms at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the founder of the Bay Area production company Loteria Films.
Katie Galloway, Director/Producer/Writer
Loteria Films principal Katie Galloway is a director, producer and writer whose films explore the intersections of institutional power, civil and human rights and political activism. Better This World (POV 2011) won the Writers Guild of America’s Award for Best Documentary Screenplay, Best Documentary at the Gotham Independent Film Awards and a Creative Recognition award from the International Documentary Association. Prison Town, USA (POV 2007), which she co-directed with Po Kutchins, was developed as a fiction television series by IFC.
Galloway produced and was a reporter in an award-winning trio of films about the American justice system for PBS FRONTLINE: Snitch, Requiem for Frank Lee Smith and The Case for Innocence. A two-time Sundance fellow, she taught documentary production at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and teaches media studies at the University of California, Berkeley, where she was recently filmmaker-in-residence in the Journalism School’s Investigative Reporting Program. She holds a Ph.D. in political science from UC Berkeley.
The Return is a co-production of Loteria Films, American Documentary | POV and Independent Television Service (ITVS) with funding provided by the Corporation of Public Broadcasting (CPB) in association with Chicken and Egg Pictures.
Directors/Producers/Writers: Kelly Duane de la Vega, Katie Galloway
Producers: Katie Galloway, Kelly Duane de la Vega, Ariella Ben-Dov
Executive Producer: Anne Devereux-Mills
Editor: Greg O’Toole
Writers: Kelly Duane de la Vega, Katie Galloway, Greg O’Toole
Director of Photography: Mario Furloni
Executive Producer for ITVS: Sally Jo Fifer
Executive Producers for
American Documentary | POV: Justine Nagan, Chris White
Running Time: 86:46
POV Series Credits:
Executive Producers: Justine Nagan, Chris White
Vice President, Content Strategy: Eliza Licht
Associate Producer: Nicole Tsien
Coordinating Producer: Nikki Heyman
Produced by American Documentary, Inc., POV is public television’s premier showcase for nonfiction films. Since 1988, POV has been the home for the world’s boldest contemporary filmmakers, celebrating intriguing personal stories that spark conversation and inspire action. Always an innovator, POV discovers fresh new voices and creates interactive experiences that shine a light on social issues and elevate the art of storytelling. With our documentary broadcasts, original online programming and dynamic community engagement campaigns, we are committed to supporting films that capture the imagination and present diverse perspectives.
POV films have won 34 Emmy® Awards, 19 George Foster Peabody Awards, 12 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards, three Academy Awards®, the first-ever George Polk Documentary Film Award and the Prix Italia. The POV series has been honored with a Special News & Documentary Emmy Award for Excellence in Television Documentary Filmmaking, three IDA Awards for Best Curated Series and the National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP) Award for Corporate Commitment to Diversity. Learn more at www.pbs.org/pov.
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