By Andrew Metcalf
Over the summer, seven Silver Spring boys set out to make a documentary about a hot-button issue, the American justice system, and on Thursday their efforts culminated in a local screening of Juvenile Justice: The Road to Reform.
The boys mingled with state government officials like Delegate Will Smith (D-District 20) and Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh at the event at the Silver Spring Civic Center Thursday night. The eight-minute documentary was produced by Gandhi Brigade Youth Media—the Silver Spring nonprofit and afterschool program that teaches local students how to use media to promote community building.
The documentary focuses on two young men who were locked up as juveniles in Maryland and how they’re attempting to make changes in their lives after the jarring experience. It includes footage from the April riots in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray and of the young filmmakers speaking about the causes of the unrest.
The 17-year-old boys, who produced the documentary said the experience was informative. The boys said they spent about 80 hours making the documentary.
“We didn’t understand at first how difficult gathering the information and stuff would be,” Noah Dagne said.
“Organization is key,” Nickson Minja added. “It was a great experience to have now and for the future.”
The students, who attend Montgomery Blair High School, chose the topic as a way to explore the underlying issues that led to the unrest in Baltimore. They worked on the project four days a week over a five-week period.
“For much of this year, we have been talking about social and civil unrest and the incidents that occurred in Baltimore and the youth wanted to explore this issue even further, which is why they created this documentary,” Gandhi Brigade director Evan Glass said.
The documentary contains some significant moments. For example, the young filmmakers note that they were rebuffed by Maryland’s Department of Juvenile Services after attempting to interview juveniles being held at detention facilities in the state.
Glass, a former CNN producer, said he helped the students attempt to make arrangements with juvenile services to get access to a facility, but were denied after juvenile services officials said they would provide footage from a facility instead. Glass said that footage wasn’t provided.
Frosh said juvenile offenders are permitted to have visitors, but said he didn’t know the circumstances surrounding the denial of access when questioned by an audience member during a discussion after the screening.
A spokesman for the Department of Juvenile Services did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday on the policy surrounding access to juveniles being held in state facilities.
Frosh recounted a tour he took of the state’s juvenile facilities, which he described as “awful,” when he was chairman of the state Senate’s judiciary committee. He told a story about how one prison director instructed him not to eat the food being served to the children.
“There’s not enough time to tell you precisely what’s wrong with them,” Frosh said.
Frosh said his office is working to improve conditions at the facilities as well as to reduce the incarceration rates of young people by trying to direct young offenders to community programs or other resources instead of sending them to juvenile facilities.
In the documentary, the students ultimately come to the conclusion that supporting afterschool activities could be a way to reduce juvenile crime. It’s a theory backed up by both of the subjects of the film—Geovany Posadas and Tyree Edmonds.
“If you can get kids community jobs, like YouthWorks, that helps out,” Edmonds says in the film. “It’s just something to keep kids busy, that way they got no time to get in trouble.” YouthWorks is a program sponsored by Baltimore City that matches children aged 14 to 21 with summer jobs.
Posadas noted he wasn’t involved in any afterschool activities.
“That’s one advice I’d like to give young people,” Posadas says in the documentary. “Activities help you stay away from the negativity.”
The documentary has also been entered into several film festivals. It’s an official selection in the 2015 Baltimore International Black Film Festival and the 2015 Urban Film Festival, according to Glass. He said the hope is to continue to screen the documentary around the state.
“I think the students did a marvelous job and tackled a really important issue,” Glass said. “I hope that other individuals and organizations who care about this issue will watch the film and encourage conversations to help resolve this looming issue.”