Main content

Incarcerating US

INCARCERATING US exposes America's prison problem and explores ways to unshackle the 'land of the free' through vital criminal justice reforms. With 2.3 million people behind bars, the U.S. has the largest prison population in the history of the world.

Through dramatic first-hand accounts, expert testimony, and shocking statistics, INCARCERATING US asks fundamental questions about the prison system in America: What is the purpose of prison? Why did our prison population explode in the 1970s? What can make our justice system more just?

The film begins with a brief overview of U.S. prisons and the flawed policies that fueled unprecedented overincarceration. In many cases, these laws exacerbate problems they were designed to solve. Through both empirical evidence and the eyes of those tragically affected by the system for committing minor crimes, we see the failures of two major initiatives: the War on Drugs and mandatory minimum sentences.

INCARCERATING US tells the story of America's broken criminal justice system through the eyes of those who created it, those who have suffered through it, and those who are fighting to change it. After decades of failures, now is the time to unshackle the land of the free.

'A gripping depiction of the drug war run amok, showing in deeply human terms how inequality, racism, and politics have led to the most massive wave of imprisonment in American history. This heart-felt film provides excellent background on the causes and consequences of the mass incarceration crisis.' Craig Reinarman, Professor of Sociology and Legal Studies, University of California-Santa Cruz, Author, Crack in America: Demon Drugs and Social Justice

'A powerful film, well-done. This is a film that everyone interested in understanding the history and dynamics of incarceration in the US should view!' Howard Zehr, Co-director, Zehr Institute for Restorative Justice, Professor Emeritus, Sociology and Restorative Justice, Eastern Mennonite University

'This timely and powerful documentary draws much-needed attention to the human destruction of the War on Drugs and its harmful effect on individuals, families, and society. Incarcerating US should be widely shown in both college classrooms and community associations concerned with social justice. In addition to providing the historical and political context about mass incarceration, it shares touching stories of both hope and despair.' Marc Howard, Professor of Government, Professor of Law, Director of the Prisons and Justice Initiative, Georgetown University

'Incarcerating US goes well beyond the headlines to expose in understandable terms the complex legal dynamics that make the war on drugs such a potent engine of excessive punishment and racial discrimination, while giving full voice to the human dignity of its victims.' Jonathan Simon, Professor of Law, Director of Center for the Study of Law and Society, University of California-Berkeley, Author, Mass Incarceration on Trial

'Incarcerating US shows how incarceration rates have exploded in this country, and the humanitarian disaster that has resulted. It's essential viewing for anyone who cares about America and our collective humanity.' Ben Westhoff, Guardian UK

'Incarcerating US highlights the ascendancy of the Prosecutor, the true master of the court in many respects...The film does a superb job in following such chains of command and traces with cold precision the glittering legal maneuvers that cloud the static correctional form...It may be that the long religious history of prison - the monastery of the profane - is coming to an end.' Martin Billheimer, Counterpunch

'This film does a good job of tracing the events and policy decisions that have led us to the situation in which we find ourselves in terms of the high rate of incarceration in the US.' Cabell Cropper, Executive Director, National Criminal Justice Association

'Incarcerating US is the most comprehensive film to date describing key factors responsible for the creation and maintenance of our excessive incarceration appetite. This film should be required viewing for every public policy maker and member of our criminal justice community. It could be the beginning to the end of this nation's most disastrous public policy system since slavery.' Neill Franklin, Executive Director, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP)

'Incarcerating US does a masterful job of explaining how the United States became the world's largest jailer and what that dubious distinction means for families, communities, and taxpayers. No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, you will walk away from this movie angry, informed, and ready to demand change.' Julie Stewart, President and Founder, Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM)

'Without a ban on alcohol, there would be no Al Capone. Without a ban on drugs, there would be no Mexican drug cartels nor heroin overdoses that have become an epidemic in the USA. And most of all, there would be no victims of 5-year and upwards mandatory minimum sentences such as Tracy Syphax...Extremely powerful film.....A very astute cast of interviewees.' Louis Proyect, The Unrepentant Marxist


Main credits

Hines, Regan (film director)
Vittorio, Vincent (film producer)

Other credits

Director of photography, Jonathan Baudoin; editor, Asher Emmanuel; original score, Lewis Hurrell.

Docuseek2 subjects

Distributor subjects

African-American Studies
American Studies
At-risk Youth
Criminal Justice
Human Rights
Mass Incarceration
Political Science
Race and Racism
Social Justice
War on Drugs


America's prison problem, criminal justice reforms, prison population, mass incarceration, war on drugs, mandatory minimum sentences, broken criminal justice system, restorative justice, Robert Holmes Bell, Sam Morison, Richard Wener, Peter Moskos, Richard van Wickler, Neill Franklin, Eric Sterling, Julie Stewart, Marc Mauer, Tim Lynch; "Incarcerating US"; Bullfrog Films