Director's Statement & Background
The Compound is a jail within a jail—a high-security facility in the middle of Sylmar Juvenile Hall. Outside its gates, kids play soccer and kickball on a grassy field. These minors are being tried as juveniles for non-violent crimes. They will return home in a matter of months. Inside the Compound, the kids look the same—almost entirely Hispanic and African-American boys dressed in county grays—only they’re not allowed on the grass. They won’t be going home anytime soon. They are LA County’s high-risk juvenile offenders, tried as adults for violent crimes and facing decades, if not hundreds of years in adult prison.
When I first entered the Compound in early 2013, I expected to find stocky, steely-eyed gangsters staring me down, wishing to jump me if given the chance. Either I’d forgotten how young teenagers really look, or I’d watched too much Locked Up Raw, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Instead I met a classroom full of kids, giddy and eager to tell their stories. They went around the room and shared their career goals. Sixteen-year old Martin said, “I might want to be an architect. Or an artist. There are so many things I don’t even know about yet. But I’m excited to learn!” Then he paused and added, “I just hope I get the chance.” He faced 100 years to life for first-degree murder.
For days after, I couldn’t stop thinking about this world I’d stumbled into. The narrow space between a lost childhood and a stolen adulthood where these kids managed to live, laugh and discover their potential. When I learned about an upcoming California Senate Bill that would provide them the opportunity for a second chance, I knew I had a film to make.
Until now, no independent filmmaker had gained access to film in the Compound. I owe mine to the incredible juvenile justice advocate community in Los Angeles, who took a chance on this film and, in doing so, encouraged LA County Probation to do the same. I could not be more grateful for the opportunity to tell this story.
On October 8th 2014, the 20th anniversary of his 1994 crime bill, President Clinton predicted that sentencing reform would become one of the hot-button issues in 2016. “We basically took a shotgun to a problem that needed a .22,” he admitted. Over twenty years later, we’re dealing with the consequences of “tough on crime”: heavily overpopulated prisons, a dearth of educational programming and reentry services, and a recidivism rate of over 70% in California.
Chief among these problems is our treatment of juvenile offenders. While juvenile crime has steadily decreased since 1994, we’ve continued to pass tougher and tougher juvenile crime laws. In California, juveniles between the ages of 14-17 can be tried as adults and receive sentences longer than their natural life expectancy.
The message rings loud and clear: these kids are lost, defined by and no better than their worst act. But due to recent advances in brain science and a handful of Supreme Court decisions, we have started to once again see juveniles as different from adults.
In the last three years, California has passed the first two bills in three decades (the second of which we followed for this film) to decrease juvenile sentences. This movement has re-sparked a national debate over the very nature of our most violent juvenile offenders. The only group silent from the debate are the minors themselves. This film gives them a voice.
A list of juvenile sentencing reform legislation passed in California since 2012:
SB-9 (2012): Eliminates the “life without parole” sentence for juvenile offenders (except for those with special circumstances).
SB-260 (2013): Provides parole board hearings at 15 or 25-years for juvenile offenders tried as adults.
SB-261 (2015): Expanding the age of those eligible for SB-260 to 22-years old, affecting an additional 16,000 inmates.
California is a leader in sentencing reform for juveniles. This film showcases that success and the need for second chance opportunities for juvenile offenders nationwide.