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Ava DuVernay undertook the documentary “13th” in order to explore and bring attention to the Prison Industrial Complex. The film’s title refers to the 1865 amendment to the U.S. Constitution, in which slavery was abolished “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” The story told by “13th” thus goes back to the early chain-gangs of Black prisoners – men arrested for petty offenses under the post-Civil War Black Codes who were then contracted out to perform labor that they had previously performed as privately-owned slaves.
Erika Rocha was 35 years old and one day away from her Youth Parole Hearing on April 15, 2016, when she committed suicide at the California Institution for Women (CIW) in Corona. Since her death, the suicide crisis at CIW has only worsened. On June 1, yet another young woman of color died at CIW. Her name is Shaylene Graves and she was 27 years old and six weeks away from returning home to her loving son, family and friends.
Justice Anthony Kennedy agreed with the majority in its most recent capital punishment case. But in an unusual move, he dedicated almost all of his concurring opinion to condemning the practice of solitary confinement in the nation’s prisons, even though the issue, of his own admission, had “no direct bearing” on the case. In Kennedy’s lengthy opinion concerning how Ayala was incarcerated, he noted that Ayala had been isolated for most of his 25 years of custody.