South Georgia film seeks to bring awareness and change to the criminal justice system

The film has been utilized by law enforcement and also in communities to reach at-risk youth.
Published: Sep. 26, 2023 at 7:44 PM EDT
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VALDOSTA, Ga. (WALB) - Some South Georgians believe the criminal justice system needs to be reformed to help rehabilitate people of different socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. Makers of the “Reformation Project” is a film produced by South Georgians about changes they believe could help.

The American criminal justice system is heavily controversial. According to U.S. News and World Report, on average, Latino Americans are imprisoned at a rate of 349 per 100,000. Tony Tong was one of them. He was incarcerated when he was 19 for a non-violent drug offense.

“The drug trade, and just the idea of trying to sell drugs, is almost like a rite of passage, especially when there’s limited opportunities for people in that socio-economic climate,” Tong said.

According to the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, prisons are supposed to serve as a place of rehabilitation so that people can reflect on their wrongdoings and eventually return to the real world.

”But the recidivation (recidivism) rate is so high, people are coming home without job skill sets, they’re having barriers for housing, jobs, just based on their criminal records,” Tong said.

The film has been utilized by law enforcement and also in communities to reach at-risk youth.

Filmmaker Steven Heddon says he wants to see the conversation between people who don’t have the same point of view to get a clearer understanding of changes they believe could help.

“Something as difficult as the criminal justice reform that affects people that are marginalized, people of color, people that don’t have the means that maybe our middle class does,” Heddon said.

Tong says change starts with your mindset and encourages young people to associate themselves with different levels of socio-economic classification to improve themselves.

“You would have the opportunity to be around people of different social classes that would also create conversations that could also enlighten you to something you don’t know,” Tong said.

The film will be shown at Valdosta State University on Wednesday from 6-8 p.m.