For decades, many people in the movement to end sexual violence supported policies that centered a criminal legal process as the primary path to justice. While we claim pride in giving survivors choice and resources after they’ve experienced violence, our support is quite limited. Our movement continues to grapple with how we can offer survivors a multitude of pathways to seek justice that does not solely rely on the criminal legal system, and recognize the disproportionate impacts of criminalization on Black and Brown men.
THE RECALL: REFRAMED pushes us to think critically about the unintended consequences of engaging in the criminal-legal system. The short film examines the impacts of sentencing across California after the recall of Judge Aaron Persky in 2018. Judge Persky is most notably remembered for presiding over People v. Brock Turner and lost his judgeship after handing down a lenient sentence of six months in the Santa Clara County jail to Turner after he was convicted of sexual assault.
The film grapples with the unintended consequences of advocating within the criminal legal system. It features researchers, academics, community leaders, government officials, and others who detailed how the recall of Judge Persky led to an increase in mass incarceration in California. A recent study, Incentive Effects of Recall Elections: Evidence from Criminal Sentencing in California Courts, found a large and instantaneous increase in harsher sentencing within the first 45 days after the recall. The increase in sentencing was not unique to sexual assault and instead was spread across all violent and nonviolent crimes. Most notably, while the recall was intended to hold accountability for racial bias in sentencing, the widespread impacts of the recall disproportionately impacted people of color.
The film concludes with asking what can we do to address mass incarceration in our country and prevent sexual violence? The criminal legal system was never built to serve survivors. Racial bias is so deeply embedded into the fabrics of the system that advocating within it will always bring unintended consequences, especially to people of color.
THE RECALL: REFRAMED challenges us to ask, “Who actually bears the burden when we demand harsher punishment for a privileged white defendant?”
Survivors deserve justice and healing. They deserve a path forward that doesn’t target Black and Brown communities. They deserve more than criminalization.
Our movement must examine alternatives such as investing in prevention funding and programming, restorative and transformative justice, and other means of engaging with our communities to prevent violence from happening in the first place.
The RECALL: REFRAMED is directed by Rebecca Richman Cohen and her full director’s statement can be read here.
The Recall: Reframed aired on MSNBC March 19, 2023 and is available to stream on NBC Peacock or The Emancipator’s YouTube Channel.
For more information about the film, visit recallreframed.com.