The Return


Kelly Duane de la Vega and Katie Galloway


Ariella Ben-Dov


How did we help:
  • Development
  • Production
  • Outreach
  • Good Pitch

Executive Producer Anne Devereux-Mills
Producer Ariella Ben-Dov
Director Kelly Duane de la Vega and Katie Galloway



At a moment of national reckoning on mass incarceration, what can California's experiment - voters' unprecedented choice to release thousands of 'lifers' from prison - teach the nation?

In 2012 voters amended California’s Three Strikes Law - one of the harshest criminal sentencing laws ever written. The landmark passage of Proposition 36 constituted the first time in national history that citizens voted to shorten sentences of the currently incarcerated. Within days, the release of thousands of “lifers,” men and women once expecting to die in prison, was underway. THE RETURN weaves the stories of those on the front lines of this unprecedented shift: prisoners suddenly freed, families turned upside down, attorneys and judges wrestling with an untested law and reentry providers negotiating unfathomable transitions.

THE RETURN begins in the months leading up to the law’s passage and follows its roll out in the lives of individuals and institutions throughout the state: the Los Angeles judge presiding over more than one thousand re-sentencing hearings; a nineteen year old girl anticipating the release of the father she hasn’t seen in a decade; a trio lawyers at Stanford's Three Strikes Clinic where the overall strategy around prisoners’ release is being choreographed; a man given a life sentence for stealing a purse preparing to reunite with his wife and four children fourteen years later.

A constellation of intimate narratives with occasional unexpected points of connection between them, THE RETURN renders, in immersive verité with the cinematic eye of a narrative feature, a nuanced look at a historic reform in a country with the highest incarceration rate in the world. At a moment of national reckoning on mass incarceration, what can California’s experiment teach the nation?

Outreach Supported:

The Return Project is a social impact campaign designed to leverage the power of film to engage, educate, and activate the public around issues related to our broken criminal justice and mass incarceration systems, and the current historic potential for reform.

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