‘Reformation Project’: Film probes criminal justice

VALDOSTA – Georgia is no stranger to the silver screen, and this time, its spotlight shines a harrowing light on the flaws of the criminal justice system in the form of a documentary, “The Reformation Project.”

The film recently premiered at the Valdosta Performing Arts Center after initial screenings in Americus.

A collaborative effort between One Sumter Economic Development Foundation, Georgia Power Company and the Greater Valdosta United Way, the film was produced by Steven Heddon and Angela Ward of Fusion Creative Marketing and The Game Changers.

The premiere started with some words from Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock, read by Adrian Rivers, community and field representative.

“At our core, humans are storytellers. Through art, language film, and more, it is a part of our common humanity. At every critical juncture, we are compelled to tell the story of who we are and who we want to be; the story of where we are and where we want to go. It is in the spirit that this evening’s viewing serves as an important moment to not only shed light on the inequities that have long plagued our criminal justice system but explore paths leading toward a more just society.”

Georgia Power's Joe Brownlee

Georgia Power’s Joe Brownlee spoke of mentorship’s impact on the criminal justice system in a documentary.

Joe Brownlee, Southwest regional director for Georgia Power, told the audience that he hopes the documentary serves as an eye-opener and conversation starter for the realities minorities face in the system.

“You might say, why does the power company get involved in something like this? Number one, we’re citizens wherever we serve. I hope you’ve all heard that all your lives, that you’ve lived in Georgia,” Brownlee said. “We don’t say it; we truly mean it, and we try to make our communities better. One of the main ways you might get better is the creation of jobs and opportunities. As a society and as a country, we have been doing the same things as it relates to poverty and race relations, for probably 50-60 years.

“So we’re trying a new approach, and part of that approach is things like this, that are really conversation starters. We don’t have all the answers, but we are looking for solutions, particularly when it comes to young Black males. Because the way the system seems to operate, you get in the system, and it follows you for the rest of your life. You have a record and why dance around that? Something needs to be done about whether it’s mental health, strengthening families at home and creating programs to inform and educate young parents. We don’t know but we’re looking for the solutions. We’re not going to dance around it anymore.”

The documentary features testimonials from law enforcement, court officers, mental health professionals and people previously incarcerated, and addressed hot button topics such as juvenile offenders, disproportionate policing of minority — particularly Black — communities and police defunding.

Lakisha Mazion The Reformation Project

Lakish Mazion spoke from the perspective of a family member of a crime victim and how race can alter the course of justice.

The film places a spotlight on victims’ families.

Lakisha Mazion is the mother of Denisha Williams, who was a victim in a fatal shooting at an area night club.

She shared her belief that her daughter’s case would have ended differently if she had been of a different race.

She said her daughter had been threatened and was shot multiple times as she tried to get away from a man.

“I definitely feel that if it was white, there would have been more attention brought to it,” Mazion said. “I feel it is swept under the rug a lot when it comes to that. I feel that … it’s not put as a priority if it would have been a different race. … If my daughter was white, I feel that it would have been more action. I feel like there would have been more people coming to find out what’s going on.”

Chief of Police Mark Scott

Americus Police Chief Mark Scott discusses funding police and mental health resources to address inequalities.

Mark Scott, Americus chief of police, said he believes the current issues stem from a dysfunctional home environment, sparking youthful offenses and difficulty in breaking away from the system.

“One of the common factors that we see over and over and over is these young men just don’t really seem to have a home life. … I think the biggest issue that we’re facing is a breakdown in the family structure and a lack of resources maybe or an inability to deal with some of the issues that parents are having to deal with today,” he said.

Scott said more funding for police training and mental health resources to address crime would be a good start to a solution, as defunding law enforcement and shifting the workload to mental health professionals would cause more problems.

“They’re not available 24/7 and are more stretched out than officers as far as caseloads go,” he said.

The screening concluded with a panel consisting of Heddon, Ward, Brownlee, formerly incarcerated Laval Castleberry, Officer Todd Moye, and behavioral health director Stephanie Davis and moderated by South Georgia Diversity Committee Chair A.C. Brawswell to discuss community needs, mental health rehabilitation and successful criminal justice reform initiatives.

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