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Streaming Video Guides

Use this guide to find streaming alternatives to Media Services DVDs.

Criminal Justice

Titles Available as of July 2022

This is a selective list of streaming video holdings in the American University Library. Streaming guides are created by doing multiple keyword searches in the library catalog to capture as many titles on a topic as possible. For complete up-to-date streaming holdings, please refer to our streaming catalog.


Bedlam Behind Bars: Mental Health Problems in American Prisons

There is a crisis today in America's prison system which has little to do with crime. It contributes to the abuse and even the deaths of some prisoners at the hands of those paid to take care of them. With access to two US jails, this program finds America's prisons are now having to accommodate vast numbers of inmates with serious mental health problems. The program reveals that more than a million mentally troubled Americans are imprisoned and may be chained to beds, sprayed with pepper spray and kept in isolation indefinitely.

Bidder 70

In 2008, as George W. Bush tried to gift the energy and mining industries thousands of acres of pristine Utah wilderness via a widely disputed federal auction, college student Tim DeChristopher monkey-wrenched the process. Bidding $1.7 million, he won 22,000 acres with no intention to drill.

Black Death in Dixie: Racism and the Death Penalty in the United States

Challenging viewers to look beyond mainstream media treatment of the death penalty, this program portrays capital punishment as a blunt instrument that disproportionately targets racial minorities and the poor. The film highlights several difficult issues, concepts, and social conditions-including statistics on the racial makeup of America's death row population; questionable convictions resulting from mistaken identification; the emotional and psychological toll on those wrongfully convicted; and the lingering effects of the Jim Crow era-or what many have called America's 20th-century apartheid system-in which lynching functioned as de facto capital punishment.

Careers in Criminal Justice

Job opportunities in criminal justice are on the rise. This program looks at a number of different occupations, ranging from entry-level positions to those requiring a four-year degree. Experts and people on the job share firsthand information about what their work is like. Some of the occupations discussed include local and state police officers, detectives, correctional officers, bodyguards, FBI agents, probation and parole officers, private investigators, and special government agents.  

CCI: Case Study of a Southern Prison

This program, filmed at the Central Correctional Institution in South Carolina, examines the failure of current U.S. correctional methods, and the expense of that failure in human terms. Interviews with inmates and staff capture emotions ranging from rage to hopelessness, as they discuss the racism and violence indigenous to prison life. The overall picture is that a growing underclass is disproportionately punished under our current criminal justice system, and has little chance for rehabilitation. 

Cocaine Unwrapped

Cocaine Unwrapped tells the story of cocaine: coca farmers in Colombia, drug mules in Ecuadorian prisons, cocaine factories in the Bolivian jungle, dealers on the streets of Mexico, law enforcement officials on the streets of Baltimore, and the everyday consumers around the dinner tables of the West. It's a story of politics, death, economic devastation and human suffering, and explores realistic alternatives to the war on drugs.  

Crime and Insanity

Is a psychiatric evaluation precise enough to be allowed as testimony in a court of law? U.S. Court of Appeals judge Irving Kaufman, Hastings Center president Willard Gaylin, and others discuss the use of psychiatry in law. 

Criminal Justice and a Defendant's Right to a Fair Trial

Should a lawyer defend a guilty person? This and other questions are debated by Bronx district attorney Mario Merola, former New York mayor Edward Koch, CBS News anchor Dan Rather, and others. 

Death Row Kids

They think we're beasts. So says a condemned murderer, succinctly expressing the view of many Americans. But this killer committed his crime when he was 17, and asks for compassion on those grounds. Filmed prior to the March 1, 2005, U.S. Supreme Court ruling barring execution for underage offenses, Death Row Kids tells the stories of confused and frightened young people awaiting the ultimate penalty.

The Dhamma Brothers

Inmates serving long sentences at Donaldson Correctional Facility in Bessemer, Alabama, participate in a Vipassana meditation program.

False Confessions

FALSE CONFESSIONS follows four cases of defense attorney Jane Fisher-Byrialsen, including that of Korey Wise who was only sixteen when he was manipulated into a false confession in the infamous Central Park Jogger case, as she fights to put an end to an institutionalized injustice. Examining the complex tactics law enforcement agencies across the U.S. use to coerce FALSE CONFESSIONS, the film looks at the psychological aspect of how people end up confessing to crimes they have not committed as well as the consequences of these confessions - for those accused, for their families and for society. On the heels of the difficult and critically important national conversation sparked by Ava Duvernay's miniseries about The Central Park Five, FALSE CONFESSIONS is an urgent in-depth look at the dark side of the American justice system that goes even further into investigating the social, racial and legal issues at stake." 

The Future of Criminal Justice Journalism?: The Marshall Project's Bill Keller

Bill Keller, the Editor-in-Chief of the new journalistic venture devoted to criminal justice reform, The Marshall Project talks to Reason TV's Nick Gillespie about the value of bringing vital information to the public that many news organizations will not cover, his 2013 online debate with Glenn Greenwald on journalism, and why he left his comfortable perch at the New York Times to run a tenuously-funded startup. A Reason TV production. 

The Grey Area: Feminism Behind Bars

The Grey Area is an intimate look at women's issues in the criminal justice system and the unique experience of studying feminism behind bars. Through a series of captivating class discussions, headed by students from Grinnell College, a small group of female inmates at a maximum women's security prison in Mitchellville, Iowa, share their diverse experiences with motherhood, drug addiction, sexual abuse, murder, and life in prison. The women, along with their teachers, explore the grey area that is often invisible within the prison walls and delve into issues of race, class, sexuality and gender.  

Guilty Until Proven Guilty: A Documentary 

The documentary explores Louisiana's criminal justice system through the story of Tim Conerly, a young African-American man who was arrested in the wake of an armed robbery in New Orleans and waited 28 months for a trial for a crime he says he did not commit. After more than two years in the Orleans Parish Jail, Conerly must choose between accepting a plea bargain of seven years or risking a sentence of 49 1/2 to 198 years if he is convicted at trial. It's a choice that no human being should have to make ... and one that someone with more resources could almost certainly avoid having to make. 

Hard Time: Teens in Maximum Security Prisons

Every Wednesday another busload of new inmates arrives at the Western Youth Institution in Morganton, North Carolina, a maximum-security prison for juvenile offenders. What trade-offs do the convicts have to make, just to stay alive in this hostile environment? And what will they be like if they eventually make it back into society? In this program, ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer reports on prison life through the experiences of four new teenage inmates-one only 13 years old.

The History of American Criminal Justice

This program offers a brief history of U.S. criminal justice. It covers such topics as criminal justice in colonial America, the Quakers' penitentiary, and the development of criminology. The program explains the organization of the U.S. criminal justice system. 

The History of World Criminal Justice

This program traces the history of world criminal justice from the Code of Hammurabi, through ancient Greece and Rome, to the Middle Ages. It covers such topics as criminal justice in India, China, Japan, and the Middle East; English debtors' prisons; punishments for colonial witchcraft; the development of criminology; and modern criminal justice systems. 

How "The Incarceration Capital of America" Embraced Criminal Justice Reform

For decades, the state of Louisiana has been known as the incarceration capital of America. But over the past year, the state has been trying to shed that reputation with new reforms that decrease the prison population and save money. William Brangham went to find how it's playing out for former prisoners, in a story produced by Frank Carlson in partnership with the Pulitzer Center. 

In the Executioner’s Shadow: A Film about Justice, Injustice and the Death Penalty

Documentary investigating the death penalty in the United States. Focuses on the former chief executioner for Virginia, the parents of a murdered university student, and a woman injured in the Boston Marathon bombing, and traces their evolving views on capital punishment.

Incarcerating US

Incarcerating US is a feature-length documentary that exposes America's prison problem and explores ways to unshackle the Land of the Free through vital criminal justice reforms. With 2.3 million people behind bars, the U.S. has the largest prison population in the history of the world. Through dramatic first-hand accounts, expert testimony, and shocking statistics, Incarcerating US asks fundamental questions about the prison system in America: What is the purpose of prison? Why did our prison population explode in the 1970s? What can make our justice system more just?

It's More Expensive to Do Nothing: Prison, Recidivism, and Remediation

The math, according to many experts, is simple: it costs $75,000 a year to incarcerate a nonviolent offender but only $5,000 to help that individual live productively in freedom. Meanwhile, the number of Americans behind bars has reached an astonishing level with virtually no sign of falling. This film explores the troubling realities that lie behind those statistics-the revolving door of institutionalization, the complexities of reform, and the frequent disregard for programs that can help ex-offenders succeed in society. Featuring interviews with more than 25 experts in the fields of law, policy-making, criminal justice, addiction treatment, and child development, the film also profiles nonviolent offenders who have turned their lives around after completing remediation and literacy programs. Viewers learn about facilities that have proven track records for helping both juvenile and adult offenders find lawful, rewarding paths to the future.   


A look inside the Brazilian justice system, closely observing the everyday work of attorneys, judges, prosecutors and other legal professionals, as well as the defendants passing through the system. 

Justice: Japan Style

Almost every person charged with committing a serious crime in Japan is convicted and goes to jail. Jury trials simply do not exist and convictions are based on confessions. Some believe that Japanese criminal court cases are simply ceremonies to impose punishment rather than determine guilt. The filmmaker obtained rare access to Japan's jails, where a cruel, secret system allows the abuse, torture and death of inmates. Prisons have spartan conditions and extremely strict rules; prisoners can be kept in solitary confinement for decades, others live eight to a room. In the last ten years there have been close to 250 suspicious deaths in custody. The film recounts the tragic ordeal of Sakae Menda who spent thirty-four years on death row after he confessed to a crime he did not commit, a confession obtained following six days of sleep deprivation and beatings. His testimony is powerful evidence of the flaws in Japan's justice system where reform is unlikely and Western notions of human rights are relatively new. 

Ken Burns: The Central Park Five

In 1989, five black and Latino teenagers from Harlem were arrested and later convicted of raping a white woman in New York City's Central Park. They spent between 6 and 13 years in prison before a serial rapist confessed that he alone had committed the crime, leading to their convictions being overturned. Set against a backdrop of a decaying city beset by violence and racial tension, Ken Burns tells the story of that horrific crime, the rush to judgment by the police, a media clamoring for sensational stories and an outraged public, and the five lives upended by this miscarriage of justice. 

Kids Behind Bars

Too young to drive, but old enough to kill. What happens to children convicted of felonies? How and where are they incarcerated? Can they be helped? And does their punishment really fit their crimes? In this program, judges, legal counsel, law enforcement officers, academic experts from Emory and Rutgers Universities, the Director of the Institute for Minority Health Research, and others examine the trend in the U.S. toward trying children as adults and discuss efforts being made to understand their violent behavior.   

Last Days of Solitary

The U.S. is the world leader in solitary confinement, with more than 80,000 American prisoners being held in isolation. But in recent years, more than 30 states have begun to experiment with reforms aimed at reducing the use of solitary. Last Days of Solitary is a searing documentary that offers American television's most comprehensive exploration of this controversial practice, and goes inside one state's ambitious attempt to decrease its use. Filmed over three years, with immersive, unprecedented access to the solitary unit at Maine State Prison, this documentary portrays-almost in real-time - the psychological disintegration of human beings, and the challenge of how to deal with men considered the most dangerous and difficult in the state. It's a haunting portrait of life in solitary, and a unique document of a risky reform experiment.  

The Legacy: Murder and Media, Politics and Prison

From murders to manhunts to a win-at-all-costs political campaign, this riveting expose presents the disturbing story behind the passage of California's stringent "Three Strikes" law. Through candid interviews and news footage, Mike Reynolds and Marc Klaas-brothers-in-arms turned bitter opponents-and other key players including judges, legal analysts, and state officials illuminate both sides of this heated issue, revealing in stark terms how criminal justice policy is debated and promoted in today's media-saturated political climate-particularly in a state where more money is spent on building prisons than on education.

Locked Angels

Lisa Ling gains unprecedented access to the Los Angeles County Jail to understand what it takes to manage the country’s busiest jail. 

New Gulag

In the United States there are five thousand prisons and one and a half million prisoners. The prison system already costs thirty billion dollars per year to maintain and will escalate as stiffer sentences and tougher treatment are being demanded for criminals. Some estimate that half of all Americans will be incarcerated by the year 2050. This hard-hitting film shows that building and maintaining prisons has become an industry. 

Nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up

On August 9, 2016, a young Cree man named Colten Boushie died from a gunshot to the back of his head after entering Gerald Stanley's rural property with his friends. The jury's subsequent acquittal of Stanley captured international attention, raising questions about racism embedded within Canada's legal system and propelling Colten's family to national and international stages in their pursuit of justice. 

Presumed Guilty

In December 2005 Toño Zuniga was picked up off the street in Mexico City, Mexico, and sentenced to 20 years for a murder he knew nothing about. A friend of Toño's contacted two young lawyers, Roberto Hernández and Layda Negrete, who gained prominence in Mexico when they helped bring about the release of another innocent man from prison. Looking into Toño's case, Roberto and Layda managed to get a retrial--on camera--and enlisted the help of filmmaker Geoffrey Smith (THE ENGLISH SURGEON) to chronicle the saga. Shot over three years with unprecedented access to the Mexican courts and prisons, this dramatic story is a searing indictment of a justice system that presumes guilt. 

Prison Pups

Prison Pups follows four inmates as they raise and train service dogs for the handicapped and hearing impaired. At Concord Farm, a minimum-security facility in Massachusetts, these inmates learn to take on the responsibility of a puppy and find in themselves not only a sense of confidence but also a capacity for nurturing and affection.

Red Hook Justice

This documentary tells the story of the Red Hook Community Justice Center (RHCJC), which opened its doors in 2000 to serve a Brooklyn neighborhood plagued by a cycle of unemployment, poverty, and crime. It follows the day-to-day stories of the people whose lives are affected by this new approach to crime and punishment. 

Rethinking the Death Penalty

Some mistakes are fixable. Wrongful conviction and subsequent execution is not. In this program, ABC News correspondent John Donvan traces the history of the death penalty in the U.S. since 1935 while capturing the views of George W. Bush and Illinois governor George Ryan. Then, Gerald Kogan, former chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court, and Dudley Sharp, director of Justice for All, join anchor Chris Wallace to discuss the use of DNA evidence to overturn death penalty convictions and to debate whether America's criminal justice system is functioning or failing. 

The Return

In 2012, California amended its "Three Strikes" law--one of the harshest criminal sentencing policies in the country. The passage of Prop. 36 marked the first time in U.S. history that citizens voted to shorten sentences of those currently incarcerated. Within days, the reintegration of thousands of "lifers" was underway. The Return examines this unprecedented reform through the eyes of those on the front lines--prisoners suddenly freed, families turned upside down, reentry providers helping navigate complex transitions, and attorneys and judges wrestling with an untested law. At a moment of reckoning on mass incarceration, what can California's experiment teach the nation?

16 Bars

With the United States locking up more of its citizens per capita than any other nation on the planet, one unique rehabilitation program in Richmond, Virginia aims to reduce recidivism rates via the creative process. 16 BARS follows four men who collaborate on an album with Grammy-winning artist Todd "Speech" Thomas to untangle painful memories of the past in order to begin a new chapter in their lives. Set at the Richmond City Justice Center, De'vonte, Anthony, Garland, and Teddy are all awaiting either trial or release. Though the four men come from different walks of life, they are alike in their current situation as they sign up for various programs, one of them being access to the center's makeshift recording studio where they can write and record their own original music. With the help of Speech Thomas from the acclaimed musical group Arrested Development, the men are able to express themselves through music. The unique music of the film serves as rare testimony to the raw and messy truth behind the criminal justice system's revolving door. Reaching into their difficult pasts, the inmates transform their various experiences, hopes, and fears into powerful songs. 

Supermax, A Prison Within a Prison 

Totally isolated from the outer world and deprived of virtually all forms of meaningful activity and social contact, inmates idle away their years in a limbo of concrete, steel, fluorescent light, and little else. In part one of this program, convicts speak out as ABC News anchor Ted Koppel explores solitary confinement in today's super-maximum security prisons, the quarters of men too violent or uncooperative for incarceration anywhere else. In part two, prison staff reveal their experiences with this harsh system as Mr. Koppel investigates the skyrocketing demand for correctional officers that has led to abbreviated training regimens and a decline in proficiency standards. 

TEDTalks, Raj Jayadev-Community-Powered Criminal Justice Reform

Community organizer Raj Jayadev wants to transform the US court system through "participatory defense" -- a growing movement that empowers families and community members to impact their loved ones' court cases. He shares the remarkable results of their work -- including more than 4,000 years of "time saved" from incarceration -- and shows how this new model could shift the landscape of power in the courts.  

Tough Justice: Texas Style

This BBC program joins Michael Gove - the man in charge of British prisons - on a fact-finding mission in Texas. "Hang 'em high" Texas is not the first place you might look for lessons in criminal justice, as it executes more people and locks up more offenders than anywhere else in America. But now this conservative state is the unlikely center of a rehabilitation-led revolution in prison reform that's sweeping through the US. Crime is down, prisoner numbers have fallen and on top of this, they've cut costs. Are there valuable lessons to be learned here, and are UK politicians really ready to dole out some Texan justice? 

Tribal Justice

Tribal Justice is a feature documentary about a little known, but effective, criminal justice reform movement in American today: the efforts of tribal courts to create alternative justice systems based on their traditions. In California, two formidable Native American women are among those leading the way. Abby Abinanti, Chief Judge of the Yurok Tribe on the northeast coast, and Claudette White, Chief Judge of the Quechan Tribe in the southeastern desert, are creating innovative systems that focus on restoring rather than punishing offenders in order to keep tribal members out of prison, prevent children from being taken from their communities, and stop the school-to-prison pipeline that plagues their young people.

Welcome to Warren: Inmates and Guards on Life in Prison

Most prison documentaries focus on the inmates. This sobering program features guards and prisoners alike, giving the viewer two interpretations of life at Ohio's Warren Correctional Institution. From the smallest detail-how cellmates rig a shabby partition around their toilet-to the cynicism and frontline sociology with which the corrections officers analyze their surroundings, the video clearly elucidates the effects of prolonged monotony and confinement on the human spirit. As one officer puts it, "Eight hours a day, I'm locked up here too." For discussions of the American criminal justice system and its dehumanizing elements, this is a strong catalyst. 

What Doesn't Kill Me

Every day, 5 million children in the U.S. either witness or are victims of domestic violence. In the current system, a judge is more likely to award child custody to the violent father if the mother tries to escape the abusive relationship. In fact, fathers win up to 70 percent of contested cases even when they've been found guilty of domestic or sexual violence against the mother or the children. Most people are unaware of the shocking imbalance of power and how hard mothers have to fight to protect their children. 

Feature Films

Brokedown Palace

Claire Danes and Kate Beckinsale team up for a contemporary drama about two young women who, immediately following their high school graduation, embark on a much anticipated trip to Thailand. Their vacation turns into a nightmare after they are accused of drug trafficking and sentenced to 33-years in prison.


Set in the south of the United States just after the Civil War, Laurel Sommersby is just managing to work the farm without her husband Jack, believed killed in the Civil War. By all accounts, Jack Sommersby was not a pleasant man, thus when he returns, Laurel has mixed emotions. It appears that Jack has changed a great deal, leading some people to believe that this is not actually Jack but an impostor. Laurel herself is unsure, but willing to take the man into her home, and perhaps later into her heart...

12 Angry Men

Depicts a jury of men who must decide the fate of a teenage boy who has murdered his abusive father. The jurors are from all walks of life, and bring with them their own opinions, prejudices, fears, and personal demons.