CNN Films and Oscar-winning documentarian Roger Ross Williams are teaming for American Jail, a new film that explores what fuels the country’s prison system. The docu is set to premiere at 9 PM July 1 on CNN.
The logline: Writer-director-producer Williams’ investigation presents a range of stakeholder positions and offers working examples of potential solutions, even traveling to the Netherlands for cases of success, to address the “prison pipeline” that criminalizes the mistakes of the poor and the vulnerable.
Using animation and commentary to illustrate the complexities of the challenge, Williams examines the history of incarceration in America and its origins in the practice of indentured servitude, and even slavery, as well as the need for labor to maintain and fuel the prison industry. He contends that poor people and minorities are more likely to receive the harshest penalties for nonviolent infractions and sometimes can pay a lifetime of punishment for what more advantaged people may describe as “mistakes.”
“Our criminal justice system is broken on many levels,” Williams said, “and I believe that it is essential for every American to understand what is at stake: taxpayers’ dollars, the economy, human potential and human lives.”
Williams and Elinor Burkett won an 2010 Oscar for their documentary short Music by Prudence, and he was nominated last year for his feature docu Life, Animated. Williams also directed the 2015 CNN Films docu short Blackface, along with God Loves Uganga (2013) and an upcoming documentary about the Apollo Theater in Harlem.
Femke Wolting and Bruno Felix produced American Jail with Williams. Amy Entelis and Courtney Sexton executive produce for CNN Films, alongside Mette Hoffman Meyer and Nick Fraser.