Jennifer Redfearn named finalist in News & Documentary Emmy Awards

September 19, 2023

Professor Jennifer Redfearn’s film “Apart” — a powerful documentary that examines the war on drugs through the lens of three mothers rebuilding their lives after years of incarceration — has been named a finalist for Outstanding Politics and Government Documentary in the 44th News and Documentary Emmy Awards.

“Apart” premiered on PBS’ “Independent Lens” in February 2022 as part of the “Stories for Justice” initiative, a public media partnership to spark community conversations and boost the work of people on the front lines of justice reform.

The documentary reveals startling statistics: Since the beginning of the War on Drugs in the 1970s, the number of women in U.S. prisons has grown over 800%, the majority of whom are mothers. Incarceration separates over 130,000 children from their mothers across the U.S. annually, the film reports.

Redfearn examines this crisis through a new reentry program for women in Cleveland, Ohio, a state caught between harsh drug sentencing and rising incarceration for women.

Movie poster for Jennifer Redfearn's

What drew her to the story
Redfearn says she wanted to report this story because of the glaring, yet often overlooked, struggle faced by incarcerated women. She talked to over three dozen women in the reentry program on an early research trip. Most, she says, were in prison due to drugs or drug-related charges; almost all had faced an early trauma related to poverty, abuse, or a family history of drugs and incarceration. Most were mothers.

“The stories they shared with me were at once profoundly engaging, moving, and at times gut-wrenching,” Redfearn said. They missed their children; some were miles away, making it tough for them to do regular visits. Phone calls from prison are expensive. “In those moments, listening to these mothers discuss their struggles and hopes for their kids, I knew I wanted to tell this story,” she said.

There were so many questions: Why were so many mothers caught in this unforgiving cycle? How does a mother parent while incarcerated? And perhaps most importantly, what are the long-term repercussions of separating moms from their children?

A woman in casual attire sits on a bed in a dormitory-style room, reading a piece of paper. The room features multiple beds lined up against the walls, with soft light filtering through small, high windows. The scene feels like it could be part of a News & Documentary segment by Jennifer Redfearn.

The stakes couldn’t be higher for a mother returning home from prison, Redfearn says. “With a felony on her record, the struggle to secure a job, a stable home and support her children becomes a daunting reality. This reality plays out in “Apart” — the audience witnesses first-hand how hard it is for Amanda to rent a home and for Lydia and Tomika to find decent-paying work to support themselves and their families.”

Reaching and engaging audiences nationwide
The film has inspired conversations around the country about mothers in prison, addiction, and the unique needs of women transitioning home. After the film’s international premiere at Hot Docs and a national and international festival run, Redfearn partnered with Independent Lens and Represent Justice, a nonprofit using the power of film to reach and engage audiences nationwide. Together they created a screening and discussion guide, and the film screened in over 100 communities across the U.S., including at prisons, halfway houses, and with judges, wardens, addiction support communities, and juvenile facilities.

An immense honor
Redfearn was on a family vacation when she heard she’d been honored by The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. “It came as such a surprise and immense honor,” she said. “From the remarkable women who entrusted us with their stories to the crew and outstanding team at ITVS and Indie Lens, so many dedicated people brought this film to life.”

The winners will be announced live from the Palladium Times Square in New York City at 7:30 p.m. EDT on Sept. 28th.

Watch the trailer here.

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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