Netflix’ ’13th’ Traces Economic Roots of Incarceration

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The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was supposed to guarantee that slavery and involuntary servitude effectively were outlawed with the exception of punishment for a crime where the “party shall have been convicted.” As detailed in 13th, director Ava DuVernay’s “stunning and enlightening” new Netflix documentary, the nation’s system of injustice has not changed much since the earliest days of slavery, says a review on The firm says the chances that a white male will serve prison time in the U.S. are 1 in 17; for a black male, it’s 1 in 3.

The film says mass incarceration’s roots are in economics: DuVernay’s argument is that when the South was suddenly short about 4 million slaves, it used the 13th Amendment to justify putting blacks in prisons for petty reasons, and continued to put them into the workforce in that way without calling them “slaves.” Today, prisons are overcrowded and filled with minorities, the most vulnerable and underprivileged among us. Private prisons, which have become a hot-button political issue, exist to make money off of incarceration, as do other factors in a system that really is rigged against poorer elements of our society, the film maintains.

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