Broken On All Sides | Documentary

The project began as a way to explore, edu­cate about, and advocate change around the over­crowd­ing of the Philadelphia county jail sys­tem. The documentary has come to focus on mass incarceration across the nation and the intersection of race and poverty within criminal justice.

The feature-length documentary is avail­able for activists and edu­ca­tors to use in order to raise consciousness and organize for change. Since its completion in February 2012 the director, Matthew Pil­lis­cher, has been doing a grassroots tour of the movie: set­ting up meetings in cities across the country, where a screen­ing of the movie can kick off dis­cus­sions by people who were formerly incarcerated and their families and allies on how we can dismantle the sys­tem of mass incarceration. If your school, workplace, organization, or religious institution can host a screening, please contact the director.

The documentary centers around the theory put for­ward by many, and most recently by Michelle Alexander (who appears in the movie), that mass incarceration has become “The New Jim Crow.” That is, since the rise of the drug war and the explosion of the prison population, and because discretion within the sys­tem allows for arrest and prosecution of people of color at alarmingly higher rates than whites, pris­ons and criminal penal­ties have become a new ver­sion of Jim Crow. Much of the discrimination that was legal in the Jim Crow era is today illegal when applied to black people but perfectly legal when applied to “criminals.” The prob­lem is that through subjective choices, people of color have been tar­geted at significantly higher rates for stops, searches, arrests, prosecution, and harsher sentences. So, where does this leave criminal justice?

Through inter­views with people on many sides of the criminal justice system, this documentary aims to answer questions and provoke questions on an issue walled-off from the public’s scrutiny.


  • Khalid Abdul Rasheed and Theresa Shoatz, activists with the Human Rights Coalition (Philadelphia)
  • Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow,” Associate Professor of Law at Mortiz College of Law, and Senior Fellow at Kirwin Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity
  • Jonathan Feinberg, partner with Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing & Feinberg
  • John Goldkamp, Chair of the Temple University Criminal Justice Department
  • Nathaniel Gravely Hayes, construction worker, formerly incarcerated in the Philadelphia Prison System (PPS)
  • Angus Love, board member of PA Prison Society
  • Marlene Martin, National Director of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty
  • Tom Namako, journalist who toured PPS and wrote City Paper articles on overcrowding
  • John Street, former mayor of Philadelphia
  • Judge Sheila Woods-Skipper, Supervising Judge at the PA Court of Common Pleas Criminal Division
  • Su Ming Yeh, attorney with PA Institutional Law Project
  • Carlton Young, former correctional officer in PPS


by Leonard C. Jefferson (a prisoner at SCI Albion, Pennsylvania)


  • John Coursey
  • Brendan Dougherty
  • Shaun Ellis
  • Jesse Olsen & David Wilson (a poet incarcerated in California)
  • Alexander Vittum
  • Sunday Labor
  • Tide Tables
  • Tha Truth
  • Matthew Pillischer

Reprint: Broken On All Sides (Website)


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