Independent Lens Brings "Stories for Justice" to PBS

Posted on February 4, 2021

Documentary storytelling pipeline will support increased understanding of the inequities in the justice system and inspire local civic dialogue about reform.

Philly D.A. directed by Ted Passon and Yoni Brook (Independent Lens, 2021)

ITVS's Emmy-winning PBS documentary series Independent Lens will partner with PBS to bring 20+ documentary films and docuseries to 60 million Americans through the new Stories for Justice public media partnership. With the bold storytelling of diverse independent filmmakers and the reach and civic engagement mission of public broadcasting, Stories for Justice programming will spark community conversations and boost the work of people on the front lines of criminal justice reform throughout the country. 

The Stories for Justice public media partnership grew out of a growing groundswell of interest in criminal justice issues among storytellers, audiences, local stations, and communities across the country. Steady polling from Gallup, Associated Press, and others shows more than 90% of Americans support justice reforms, as more and more people question why the United States is the most incarcerated nation in the world—and why people of color are disproportionately and unjustly affected by the criminal justice system. 

In community after community, stories and conversations continue to bubble up: about the 2.3 million Americans currently behind bars, the majority of them people of color; about the 2.7 million children with jailed parents; about leaders eager to reduce the $80 billion spend each year on incarceration; about failures of equity, due process, public safety, and trust; about the lived experience of people affected by prevention, policing, bail, diversion, sentencing, rehabilitation, release and parole. 

“Storytellers in this initiative come from the towns they cover and go deep within communities to  expose the long-term impacts of our local and national decisions,” says Lois Vossen, executive  producer of Independent Lens, “and the result is an immersive, human story with all the  journalistic standards we need to have meaningful conversations that inspire community-led solutions.” 

The partnership is anchored by multiple docuseries that offer groundbreaking scope, rare access, and a deep dive into the inner workings of the criminal justice system. Beginning in April, the ITVS and PBS co-production Philly D.A. goes behind the scenes in Philadelphia, where District Attorney Larry Krasner and his staff try to rewire the system against a backdrop of police brutality, the opioid crisis, gun violence, mass incarceration, and a racial reckoning. 

A second docuseries, tentatively scheduled for 2022, will fan out through the city of Dallas and the interconnected lives of a community affected at every level of the local justice system. Over the multi-year efforts, Independent Lens will also present Stories for Justice films such as Women in Blue, directed by Deidre Fishel; Down a Dark Stairwell, directed by Ursula Liang; and short docs that explore other issues and communities, together forming a kaleidoscopic vision of the lived experience of the criminal justice system in today’s America. 

“PBS is proud to partner with Independent Lens to air Stories for Justice, a programming initiative that shines an important light on criminal justice reform and the inequalities that exist,” said Sylvia Bugg, PBS Chief Programming Executive and General Manager, General Audience Programming. “At PBS, we believe in programming that inspires and educates—and Stories for Justice is at the intersection of that, while elevating civic dialogue in communities across the  country.” 

A cornerstone of the Stories for Justice work will be community-led conversations to solve local problems related to the Independent Lens programming. A participatory feedback platform developed by ITVS, DocSCALE, will help gather insights from audiences in their own words, engaging communities while surfacing data that documents the evolution of understanding, dialogue, and civic decision-making at the local level. 

Stories for Justice is made possible with the generous support of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Ford Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Wyncote Foundation and Park Foundation

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