Mass Incarceration in The 13th

The 13th (Netflix Documentary)

(Video Length: 1 hour 40 minutes) Highly recommended! DuVernay, A. (Director), DuVernay, A. & Averick, S. (Writer). (2016). The 13th [Documentary]. United States: Netflix.

Watch the video above and describe at least one social problem presented in the video using the definition of social problems provided in the Zastrow reading (A social problem exists when an influential group asserts that a certain social condition affecting a large number of people is a problem that may be remedied by collective action).

Your response should address the different parts of that definition: What is the social condition? Who is affected? What group or groups think it’s a problem? What kind of collective action might address the problem?


Mass Incarceration in The 13th

One social problem discussed in DuVernay’s The 13th is mass incarceration. Mass incarceration refers to the criminalization and incarceration of people at very high rates. In the documentary, this issue is portrayed as one that significantly impacts American society and is connected to slavery. The documentary mainly focuses on the mass incarceration of African American males (DuVernay, 2016). As such, this social problem affects African American males. The documentary indicates that slavery persists in America, evidenced by the Prison Industrial Complex. The film implies that prisoners are held as enslaved people who work for free, providing unpaid services to prisons. African American men are the most affected by mass incarcerations and, consequently, the slavery treatment.

Certain groups find mass incarceration a public problem requiring collective action. Social movement groups, Civil Rights, and Black Power Movements think this is a critical societal issue. They have tried to push for reforms to defend African Americans from injustice by the criminal justice system, unlawful incarceration, and police brutality. Essentially, they try to erase the myth of black criminality. They aim to foster better relations between the black community and law enforcement and create a better and just system for all Americans.

Specific actions can help address mass incarceration in the United States. First, the government can eliminate imprisonment for low-level crimes and implement other forms of punishment. The government can also reduce minimum sentences for crimes like robbery and other petty crimes that need punishment by imprisonment. Reducing sentences will reduce the number of people in prisons and help control recidivism (Cullen, 2016). At their core, these measures seek to eliminate any unnecessary imprisonment.


Cullen, J. (2016, December 19). Four Things We Can Do to End Mass Incarceration. Retrieved from Brennan Center for Justice:

DuVernay, A. (Director), DuVernay, A. & Averick, S. (Writer). (2016). The 13th [Documentary]. United States: Netflix.



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