Analysis Paper on the Documentary 13th by Ava DuVernay

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Carnegie Mellon University
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In the film 13th directed by Ava DuVernay, it argues about mass incarceration as an extension of slavery. It explores the history of race and the criminal justice system in the United States. Most people that are held in prison are black people thus raising the question of racial disparity. As Carson (2014) states in his report, 1% of male residents from states such as Alabama, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Arizona, Georgia, and Arkansas were in prison on 31st December. Worsening the case is the issue of racial disparity. African Americans are six times likely to be imprisoned than their white counterparts. The Hispanic are not spared either; their imprisonment chances are 2.4 times higher than those of the whites. Addressing a congregation at the Columbia University, Hillary Clinton (2015) in her speech, acknowledged that despite the US representing 5% of the worlds population, its prison population amounts to 25% of the worlds total population making it one of the countries with the highest number of occupants. Not only does the situation strain the prison system but it also hurts the incarcerated individuals as well as taxpayers regarding maintaining the system. Based on both the percentage and raw figures, the United States is by far the nation with the highest rate of incarceration in the world. Even though the 13th Amendment to the Constitution makes it unconstitutional for someone to be held as a slave, the United States still treats the black people as slaves in prisons.

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Ava DuVernay in the film argues that people are put in jail for various crimes. Therefore, the society should not judge the prisoners because some are there for petty crimes they have committed. As Ava DuVernay explains in an interview with Michel Martin, "every person who is in prison is not a criminal, that all crimes are not created equal, that all sentences are not equivalent." The documentary was therefore designed to inform the people who do not know about the criminal justice system.

The majority of the prisoners incarcerated in the country between 1980 and 2000 were locked due to their involvement in violent crimes and property infiltration. A fifth of the population was only in for drug offenses. Moreover, despite their charges on drug offenses, their previous rap sheets indicate that they were previously convicted of violent crimes. The arrests increased from time to time even for simple felonies which had alternative solutions instead of incarceration (DuVernay, 2016). Ancient America always responded promptly to crimes but temporarily. Few of the felons were exiled or hanged, but most were forced to pay fines and paraded in the market as a way of shaming them and informing every member of the society for their crime. In a way, this appeared as a rehabilitation measure since the offenders were eventually forgiven. By then, this was perceived as the right action based on the fundamental Christian principle of forgiveness. It was argued that it could be any one thus the need to restrain oneself for exposing another to such punishment. In this sense, their mode of punishment struck the offense and allowed an individual to take responsibility for them to be accepted back. Compared to the current situation, these acts did not affect the relationships with their families.

The prison population has been driven up mainly by the increase in violent crimes. Contrary to the perceptions, violent crimes are rampant as compared to drug-related offenses. Furthermore, those involved in drugs conduct their businesses in secret so as to evade prison. The arrests increase from time to time even for simple felonies which could be dealt with alternative solutions instead of incarceration. Many people benefit from profits especially the huge corporations which make a lot of the advantages from prisons. Those companies pretend to be helping the prisons whereas they are just after the money. They supply inferior goods and services such as food and telephone and earn profits from them. The film explores the demonization of minority poor through these decades to serve political ends, contributing to unrealistic fears of minorities by whites and persistent problems of police brutality against minority communities (DuVernay, 2016). The alarming rates of incarceration, as well as the massive population in the US jails and prisons, are due to laws and policies passed by decision makers to utilize the prison sentences more. Many people are imprisoned for the crimes that they have committed. Just like in the past, the United States criminalizes black people for petty offenses. They also arrest freedmen and force them to work when they could not pay fines. By the end of the film, DuVernay shows a graphic procession of recent videos of fatal shootings of blacks by police (DuVernay, 2016).

In conclusion, the United States should move from the notion that punishment will deter crime and embrace the forgiving attitude. Whether sentences are for a short period or a lengthy period, it should be acknowledged that they will be eventually released apart from isolated cases -sentenced to life or hang. In that sense, the US needs to shift its attention from dishing out sentences to rehabilitation programs and help the released prisoner adjust to the outside life, assist them to integrate back to the community which will, in turn, prevent them from becoming repeat offenders. It should also stop slavery through imprisonment of black people who have are innocent or have only committed petty crimes.


Carson, E. A. (2014). Prisoners 2013. US Department of Justice. Bureau of Justice Statistics.

September 2014, NCJ 247282.

DuVernay, A. (2016).Textual analysis paper on the documentary 13th by Ava DuVernay

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