Review: The House I Live In, Eugene Jarecki documentary


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The Independent Culture

Eugene Jarecki's eye-opening documentary on America's War on Drugs serves to expose the country's entire criminal justice system, from arrest and sentencing to incarceration.

Per capita, the US keeps the largest prison population in the world, a figure that won't fall while its courts hand out unbelievably harsh sentences to non-dealing drug users. "I think we've got people doing a whole lot of time for not very much crime," says one prison officer, who should know. At the heart of it, inevitably, is race.

Through interviews with police, judges, offenders and – poignantly – a woman who was housekeeper for Jarecki's family, the film establishes how black men dealing drugs on the street are far more likely to be targeted than whites protected by class and money.

Even the disproportionate sentencing for the use of crack as opposed to powder cocaine punishes black more than white. Politicians terrified of seeming soft on crime enable such inequities to continue; meanwhile in poor neighbourhoods selling drugs becomes one of the few viable economies.

It's a bleak watch, this bulletin from the "war" on drugs, not least because it doesn't look like ending any time soon.