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New documentary series, “Encountering Attica” November 27, 2007

Posted by terilawprof in Blogging, Documentary.
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The Projecting Law Project at the University at Buffalo School of Law has undertaken a year-long project that takes a small group of first year law students out to Attica Correctional Facility, a men’s maximum security prison) six times to meet with inmates doing long sentences over the course of their first year of law school. The students (as well as correctional officers, ex-cons, prison administrators and civilian staff) are interviewed on videotape about their insights into the criminal punishment system.

The three themes of the series are: (1) why is the conversation so difficult to have (in other words, why is it so unusual for prison inmates (who have experienced the justice system firsthand) and law students (who are studying the justice system and training for careers in law) to have an extended discussion? (2) how might the views of the one group change or influence the views of the other group (and vice versa) over the course of the year? and (3) what are the costs of the current “lock them up and throw away the key” philosophy of the criminal justice system?

The Projecting Law Project is screening the first of three installments at the law school on Tuesday, Dec. 4th. The screening (of about 16 mins. of roughly edited footage) will provide a springboard for a broader conversation about criminal punishment in the 21st Century and the pros/cons of the current trends in criminal punishment and incarceration. The Dean of the Law School will lead a discussion after the screening. Since the series is an ongoing work-in-progress, the audience will actually have an opportunity to suggest to the filmmakers directions the series should take, and additional issues that could be explored.

Although the face-to-face encounters with the inmates are limited, the law school group communicates with the prisoners via a protected discussion board, as well as a public web blog at wordpress.com. So the discussion continues outside the visits themselves, and the content of these discussions is included in the footage that will eventually be edited into a full-length documentary.