Ava DuVernay’s ‘13th’ Traces the Public Health Crisis of Mass Incarceration

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“The New Slavery”

States instituted local police forces to arrest Black people for petty crimes in order to contribute a constant stream of labor. In prisons and jails, the incarcerated performed free or low-cost labor for the state.

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The War on Drugs

The prison population in the United States initially climbed but stayed stagnant until the 1970s, when the era of mass incarceration officially began to plague the nation.

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The Role of the Legal System

The film relies on strong historical archives and facts, in addition to various speakers who contextualized the information. From U.S. Senator Cory Booker to political revolutionary Angela Davis, the speakers represent a range of knowledge from activism to politics.

Lived Experiences of Racial Injustice in Rap Music

Between scenes, “13th” explores the role of rap and hip-hop in communicating how Black communities perceive the American justice system, sampling tracks from Killer Mike’s “Reagan” to Usher’s “Chains.”

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The Public Health Crisis of Mass Incarceration

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, about 44% of prisoners experience chronic disease — including high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart problems — compared with 31% of the general population (2019).

Watch the documentary on Netflix.

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