It’s Criminal: Women Discuss Privilege, Poverty and Injustice in America
Directed by Signe Taylor (2017)
This documentary concerns an innovative program at Dartmouth University in which Dartmouth English students collaborate with female prison inmates to put on a play. The main goal is to acquaint the Dartmouth students with their privileged standing.
All the inmates in the program were arrested for drug-related offenses. One woman pleaded guilty because she couldn’t afford bail and faced an indefinite period of detention before going to trial. Another, who couldn’t make bail, was still waiting for a court date.
All the the prisoners reported a history of severe trauma, both in their family of origin and from abusive partners.
The interactions between the two groups became quite strained when two male Dartmouth students are busted for dealing cocaine (like several of the inmates), have their charge reduced to a misdemeanor (owing to their privileged position as Dartmouth students) and receive community service (in lieu of prison) as a sentence.
The film can be viewed free on Kanopy with a public library card.
The World According to AI – Episode 2 The Bias in the Machine
Al Jazeera (2019)
This documentary examines how drone algorithms the US military developed for the battlefields of Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen (see Civilian Drone Strikes: Targeted by Algorithm) are being rolled out by urban police. Because these law enforcement algorithms are based on faulty data, they disproportionately target the poor and minorities. Because these particular zip codes are already over-policed, they provide the vast majority of data used in creating new algorithms.
What the filmmakers find particularly alarming is that many of the same algorithms are used to make bail decisions, sentencing recommendations and credit scores, as well as determining eligibility for state housing and other benefits.
The filmmakers visit Skid Road, the second most policed area in the world, after Baghdad. Owing to the current housing crisis, it hosts a massive homeless population, most of whom are either Black or disabled. The reason Skid Row is so heavily policed is because Skid Row borders on the wealthy Los Angeles financial district. One Skid Row woman has been arrested 108 times for sitting or lying on the sidewalk.
The US military also uses Skid Row population to test new spy software.