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best documentaries on recidivism

17 Jun 2023, Prisons, by

Discover the top documentaries on recidivism that shed light on the challenges faced by ex-offenders reintegrating into society.

best documentaries on recidivism - Inmate Lookup

Recidivism refers to the tendency of former inmates to return to prison or jail after being released. This is a complex issue that affects society as a whole, and many filmmakers have attempted to shed light on this topic through their documentaries. Here, we will explore the best documentaries on recidivism available today and how they help us better understand this phenomenon.

understanding the concept of recidivism

Before diving into the documentaries, let’s first discuss the concept of recidivism. In simple terms, it is a relapse into criminal behavior, and it is a clear indication that the criminal justice system is not working as it should be. In the United States, recidivism rates are alarmingly high. According to the National Institute of Justice, over two-thirds of released prisoners are rearrested within three years, and over half return to prison. This is why it’s crucial to examine recidivism and figure out what can be done to reduce it.

One factor that contributes to high recidivism rates is the lack of support and resources available to individuals after they are released from prison. Many former inmates struggle to find employment, housing, and access to healthcare, which can lead them back into criminal behavior. Additionally, the stigma surrounding a criminal record can make it difficult for individuals to reintegrate into society. Addressing these issues and providing support for individuals post-release is essential in reducing recidivism rates and promoting successful reentry into society.

how documentaries shed light on recidivism

Documentaries on recidivism are a powerful tool for bringing public attention to this issue. They go beyond the statistics by highlighting the individual stories of those who are struggling to stay out of the criminal justice system. By giving the audience a glimpse into the lives of former inmates, these documentaries help us understand the challenges they face once they are released. They also reveal flaws in the criminal justice system and provide insights into potential solutions.

Moreover, documentaries on recidivism can also serve as a platform for advocacy and policy change. They can inspire viewers to take action and demand reforms in the criminal justice system. These films can also be used as educational tools in schools and universities to raise awareness about the issue and promote critical thinking about the causes and consequences of recidivism.

Finally, documentaries on recidivism can provide a sense of hope and empowerment to those who have been affected by the criminal justice system. By sharing the stories of individuals who have successfully reintegrated into society, these films can inspire others to believe in their own ability to overcome the challenges of reentry. They can also help reduce the stigma associated with having a criminal record and promote a more inclusive and compassionate society.

top 10 must-watch documentaries on recidivism

Now, let’s explore the best documentaries on recidivism available today.

  1. 13th (2016) – This highly rated Netflix documentary explores the history of racial inequality in the United States, including how it influenced the rise of the prison industrial complex and mass incarceration.
  2. The Return (2016) – This HBO documentary follows the stories of two men as they re-adjust to life after being released from prison due to California’s AB 109 bill.
  3. Life After Life (2013) – This PBS documentary looks at innovative programs inside four prisons in Massachusetts that aim to reduce recidivism and help incarcerated individuals prepare for life outside of prison.
  4. Survivors Guide to Prison (2018) – This documentary, available on Netflix and other streaming platforms, offers an unflinching look at the flaws and failures within the American criminal justice system.
  5. They Call Us Monsters (2016) – This film follows three teenagers facing life sentences and the educators trying to help them inside a Los Angeles juvenile prison.
  6. Prison Dogs (2016) – This HBO documentary centers on a program where incarcerated individuals train service dogs for veterans with disabilities, highlighting the potential benefits of prison rehabilitation programs.
  7. Incarcerating Us (2018) – This documentary examines the history of mass incarceration in the United States and the impact it has on individuals and communities.
  8. The House I Live In (2012) – This Sundance award-winning film is a comprehensive look at the factors that contribute to the rise of the American mass incarceration system.
  9. The visiting room (2017) – This documentary observes a group of prisoners as they prepare for a visit from their families. They discuss how they ended up in jail and the challenges they face once they are released.
  10. Last Day of Freedom (2015) – This Oscar-nominated documentary uses animation to tell the story of a man who must decide what to do when his brother -a veteran with PTSD- commits a violent crime, and the consequences that follow.

Recidivism is a complex issue that affects not only the individuals who are incarcerated but also their families and communities. These documentaries shed light on the challenges faced by those who are released from prison and the importance of rehabilitation programs in reducing recidivism rates.

It is important to note that recidivism rates vary widely depending on the state and the type of crime committed. For example, a study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that within five years of release, about three-quarters (76.6%) of released prisoners were rearrested. However, the recidivism rate for drug offenders was lower at 44.1%.

exploring the impact of the criminal justice system on recidivism rates

Many documentaries on recidivism explore how the criminal justice system plays a vital role in determining recidivism rates. The films show how harsh sentencing, overcrowding in prisons, and lack of access to rehabilitation programs can all contribute to high rates of recidivism. They also provide insight into how alternative methods of punishment, such as restorative justice, or “second chance” programs, can lower recidivism rates.

One factor that is often overlooked in discussions of recidivism is the role of mental health. Many individuals who end up in the criminal justice system have underlying mental health issues that are not properly addressed. Without proper treatment, these individuals are more likely to reoffend. Documentaries that explore the impact of mental health on recidivism rates can shed light on the importance of providing mental health services to those in the criminal justice system.

Another important aspect to consider when examining recidivism rates is the impact of societal factors. Poverty, lack of education, and limited job opportunities can all contribute to a cycle of criminal behavior. Documentaries that focus on the societal factors that contribute to recidivism can help to raise awareness and promote change in policies and programs that address these issues.

how education and job training can reduce recidivism rates

Education and job training are essential to breaking the cycle of recidivism. Many documentaries show how offering these services to inmates can reduce the likelihood of them re-offending upon release. Seeing the success stories of rehabilitation programs that offer education and job training, such as the ones featured in Life After Life, can be inspiring and motivate policymakers to create similar initiatives.

Studies have shown that inmates who participate in education and job training programs while incarcerated have a significantly lower recidivism rate than those who do not. This is because these programs provide inmates with the skills and knowledge they need to successfully reintegrate into society and find employment upon release.

Furthermore, offering education and job training programs to inmates can also have a positive impact on society as a whole. By reducing recidivism rates, these programs can help to lower crime rates and save taxpayers money that would otherwise be spent on incarcerating repeat offenders.

analyzing the role of mental health in reducing recidivism rates

The overwhelming majority of incarcerated individuals suffer from poor mental health, including substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Addressing these issues is crucial to reducing recidivism rates. Documentaries like They Call Us Monsters provide insight into how prisons can better assist individuals dealing with mental illnesses through therapy and support, rather than punishment.

Furthermore, studies have shown that providing mental health treatment to incarcerated individuals not only reduces recidivism rates, but also improves overall public safety. This is because individuals with untreated mental illnesses are more likely to engage in criminal behavior and pose a threat to society. By investing in mental health resources for incarcerated individuals, we can not only improve their well-being, but also create a safer community for everyone.

addressing racial disparities in recidivism through documentaries

A significant issue in the criminal justice system is the racial disparities that lead to disproportionate rates of imprisonment and recidivism among people of color. Documentaries like 13th, The House I Live In, and Incarcerating US dive deep into the history of systemic racism and how it has led to racial disparities in the United States criminal justice system.

Moreover, these documentaries also highlight the impact of mass incarceration on families and communities. They shed light on the trauma and social stigma that formerly incarcerated individuals face, making it difficult for them to reintegrate into society. By showcasing the human cost of the criminal justice system, these documentaries encourage viewers to think critically about the policies and practices that perpetuate racial disparities in recidivism.

Furthermore, documentaries can serve as a powerful tool for advocacy and social change. They can inspire viewers to take action and demand reforms that address the root causes of racial disparities in recidivism. By amplifying the voices of those who have been directly impacted by the criminal justice system, documentaries can help to build a movement for justice and equity.

examining successful rehabilitation programs featured in documentaries

Through documentaries, viewers can see the impact of successful rehabilitation programs on formerly incarcerated individuals. The Return and Life After Life are excellent examples of films that showcase successful rehabilitation programs and how they can reduce recidivism rates.

One of the key factors in successful rehabilitation programs is providing access to education and job training. These programs can help individuals gain the skills and knowledge needed to secure employment and become productive members of society. In addition, many successful rehabilitation programs also focus on providing mental health and addiction treatment, as these issues often contribute to criminal behavior. By addressing these underlying issues, individuals are better equipped to successfully reintegrate into their communities and avoid returning to prison.

how restorative justice can help prevent recidivism

Restorative justice is a criminal justice philosophy that emphasizes repairing, rather than punishing, the harm caused by a crime. It is an alternative way to deal with inmates that can reduce recidivism rates by focusing on rehabilitation and closure rather than punishment. Documentaries like Survivors Guide to Prison offer insight into the transformative potential of restorative justice and its significance in reducing recidivism rates.

Restorative justice programs have been implemented in various countries, including the United States, Canada, and New Zealand. These programs involve bringing together the victim, offender, and community members to discuss the harm caused by the crime and how to repair it. This process can lead to greater understanding and empathy between the parties involved, as well as a sense of accountability for the offender. Studies have shown that restorative justice programs can significantly reduce recidivism rates, as offenders are more likely to take responsibility for their actions and make amends for the harm they caused.

debunking common myths and misconceptions about recidivism through documentaries

Another significant contribution of documentaries on recidivism is the ability to debunk myths and misconceptions surrounding this issue. Documentaries like The House I Live In, Survivors Guide to Prison, and Incarcerating US provide factual information about recidivism, dispelling myths such as the belief that harsher sentences lead to lower recidivism rates.

Moreover, documentaries also challenge the misconception that recidivism is solely a result of individual choices and behaviors. They shed light on the systemic issues that contribute to high rates of recidivism, such as lack of access to education and job opportunities, racial disparities in the criminal justice system, and inadequate support for individuals re-entering society after incarceration. By presenting a more comprehensive understanding of recidivism, documentaries can inspire meaningful conversations and policy changes that address the root causes of this issue.

the importance of public awareness and education about recidivism through film

The power of film to educate and inform should not be underestimated. Documentaries on recidivism not only illustrate the problem but also provide possible solutions. By raising public awareness and providing educational resources, filmmakers play a crucial role in changing public perception and influencing policymakers.

Furthermore, films can also serve as a powerful tool for rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders. By showcasing success stories of individuals who have successfully reintegrated into society after serving time in prison, films can inspire and motivate others to follow in their footsteps.

Moreover, films can also shed light on the underlying causes of recidivism, such as poverty, lack of education, and mental health issues. By highlighting these issues, filmmakers can help to address the root causes of recidivism and advocate for policy changes that can prevent individuals from returning to prison.

exploring the connection between poverty and recidivism through documentary lens

A common thread in many of these documentaries is the connection between poverty and recidivism. Factors like lack of access to quality education, healthcare, and generational poverty can have an impact on an individual’s likelihood to re-offend. Documentaries like 13th illustrate how these issues contribute to the high rates of recidivism in the United States.

Furthermore, studies have shown that individuals who come from low-income backgrounds are more likely to be incarcerated for non-violent offenses, such as drug possession, due to the lack of resources and opportunities available to them. This perpetuates the cycle of poverty and incarceration, as a criminal record can make it even more difficult for individuals to find stable employment and housing.

However, some documentaries also highlight the potential solutions to this issue. For example, The Return follows the stories of individuals who were formerly incarcerated and their struggles to reintegrate into society. The film also showcases successful rehabilitation programs that provide education, job training, and mental health services to help individuals break the cycle of poverty and recidivism.

the role of family and community support in reducing recidivism rates

A strong support system can significantly impact an individual’s likelihood to re-offend. Documentaries like The visiting room and They Call Us Monsters show how support from family and community can positively influence an ex-offender’s re-entry into society.

how to use documentaries on recidivism for educational purposes

Documentaries on recidivism can be utilized in education and advocacy. They offer a unique, engaging, and informative perspective on the issue, making them a valuable tool for educators, policymakers, and advocacy groups. Through screenings, panel discussions, and other events, documentaries on recidivism can help educate the public, change perceptions, and lead to positive policy changes.


Recidivism is a significant issue that affects society as a whole, and the documentaries discussed in this article make a valuable contribution to examining this topic. Through these films, we can gain insights into the lives of individuals impacted by the criminal justice system and the potential solutions that can reduce recidivism rates. By raising public awareness, sparking debates, and encouraging policy changes, these documentaries play a crucial role in fighting for criminal justice reform.