19.08.2020 in Review

Locked up in America


The film under review is Edge, D., Jones, E. C., Mucciolo, L., Mongoose Pictures, WGBH (Television station: Boston, Mass.), Public Broadcasting Service (U.S.) & PBS Distribution (Firm). Locked up in America. The executive producer is David Fanning. A film director is Dan Edge who has rich experience in creating documentary films that display topical unresolved social problems of the United States and other countries. The scenario is written by Will Lyman. This project is founded by “a Frontline production with Mongoose Pictures in association with the BBC”. The discussed movie was first aired in 2014. As it is implied from a movie’s title, it highlights the reality of the solitary confinement. Specifically, Dan Edge strives to reveal the adverse tendencies launched by this means of punishment. Locked up in America displays the negative outcomes of incarceration for inmates, employees who take care of them, and community in general.

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Locked up in America is a documented empirical research that provides qualitative data used as arguments that support Edge’s message. Specifically, the main idea of this movie is the harmful effect of isolation on a person’s mentality and its great financial burden. The first part of thesis is vocalized to viewers at the beginning of the film by an imprisoned man who was sentenced to the six month of solitary confinement (2:15-2:20).This assumption is explicit and clear, the value of the interviewed prisoner’s words is increased by the disturbing music that accompanies his revelation. In this way, one can rightfully deduce that the combination of the sound components serves to reinforce the persuasive power of this scene.


An associate of Frontline, Jenifer Robinson, emphasizes that Locked up in America conveys the message that “the practice is inhumane and counterproductive, and now some states are trying to curtail its use”. The second part of Edge’s premise, counterproductive solitary confinement, is represented in equal shares with the mental health issue. This correlation can be observed in the structure of the discussed movie, which highlights in turns both problems. The next section is aimed to provide a critical assessment of Dan Edge’s methods to attract viewers’ attention to the fact that incarceration in American increases financial expenditure and inflicts mental burden on inmates and employees who work in solitary units.

Critical Assessment

The harmful impact of solitary confinement is displayed by showing the bloody scenes when imprisoned men cut themselves (6:40-6.50). Besides, it displays the criminals crying. Displaying emotionally intense scenes the director makes an assumption that isolated inmates lose their sanity because of the noise and constant madness they have to hear and observe. Consider an example, in his interview the movie creator reveals that “people think the solitude is what drives prisoners crazy, but it’s actually the noise”. Without a doubt, conducting the investigation of solitary confinement units is worth doing and watching because it sheds light on the discussed problem. In this way, Edge succeeds in accomplishing an important social goal of information sharing and expressing humanity to all members of a community. Thus, it is not surprising that Locked up in America is an award-winning movie, which implies author’s credentials in highlighting dubious social issues.

Apart from inhumane life of the isolated criminals, this film contains an assumption that solitary confinement is a significant burden for the American society. Without a doubt, segregation of criminals is more pricy than keeping them with the rest of inmates. Moreover, this approach is burdensome for employees who work in the solitary units. In this respect, author depicts numerous scenes of workers cleaning blood, food, and other mess caused by imprisoned individuals. In addition, they have to hear the constant noise, including lots of abusive language. What makes the things even worse is that employees have to provide medical service to dangerous violent criminals who lost their minds (12:00-14:00). In a broader perspective, these scenes imply that the burden is inflicted upon the entire society who must create and maintain solitary confinements.

Identifying the shortcoming of Locked up in America, one should stress that a film director attracts audience attention to the issue of solitary confinement; however, rising important problems should be accompanied with the workable solutions. Unfortunately, this movie does not provide and discuss alternatives. This is the weak point of Locked up in America. To understand its implications, it is necessary to refer to the two main messages of this film: solitary confinement is inhumane and ineffective. The first premise is greatly debatable because segregation of the serious violent individuals may be the best way to protect themselves from causing self-harm and injuring others. Besides, if humanity could have a degree, solitary unit can be called much more indulgent than, for example, death penalty or the approach of exposing to danger other people by leaving the violent criminal among humans.

Another premise, ineffectiveness of solitary confinement, seems to be more valid and certain. Perceiving the evidence provided by Edge (increased suicidal propensity, self-punishment, flooding the units, causing much noise and mess), one may consider them as the strong and valid arguments why segregation is the effectless punishment. To be more precise, the purpose of punishment is to correct behavior and a viewer observes that this goal can not be achieved with the help of solitary confinement; on the contrary, violent offenders become even more severe and mindless.

Hence, the delivery of the aforementioned messages to the viewers suggests that the author calls to action. Given this insight, it is natural to question what kind of action Edge wants people to do. The target audience of Locked up in America are people who are familiar/involved in the outcomes of solitary confinement (have relatives or friends who are incarcerated). Providing no solution to the issue of solitary confinement may create more problems because the target audience may feel sympathy to the imprisoned individuals and backfire on the state with the requirement to change the terms of incarceration. Nevertheless, it is obvious that the process of reforming and reorganizing of prisons requires much time and money. To make the matters worse, the questions about possible alternatives for serious violent criminals remains unanswered. Therefore, despite succeeding in delivering the discussed issue to the American people, Locked up in America fails to anticipate the plausible reaction of the audience.


Summing up the above-mentioned, it is necessary to stress that Edge’s documentary movie Locked up in America is a reward-winning film that has become praised by numerous viewers over a short period of time. The reason of success is well-depicted topical problem of the negative implications of solitary confinement for all involved parties. The main idea is delivered by revealing empirical research, in particular, the interviews with inmates and employees. The value of the obtained qualitative data is reinforced with the proper methods, such as disturbing music and the scenes that reveal self-harm and suffering of inmates, burden of the prison staff. Besides, this problem is evaluated from the perspective of financial expenditures, which is a strong argument for tax-payers. Hence, the lack of ideas how this problem can be resolved is a shortcoming of Locked up in America.

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