This article appears in our 2017 Winter issue, Chaos. Subscribe today!
The IF Project, a documentary about a collaborative program between prisons and police focused on “intervention, prevention, and reduction in incarceration and recidivism,” interviews inmates at the Washington Corrections Center for Women and the cop who heads the program, Kim Bogucki. While the film, directed by Kathlyn Horan, offers a platform for women inmates to tell their stories, it’s ultimately a “feel-good” movie that doesn’t adequately address criminal justice reform.
Much of the film centers on Bogucki, a veteran detective with the Seattle Police Department who heads a writing workshop, the IF Project, in the prison. She poses this question to inmates: “If there was something someone could have said or done that would have changed the path that led you here, what would it have been?” Bogucki explains that the inmates’ answers are passed down to youth in juvenile detention and young people who are at risk of being locked up.
Throughout the documentary, it’s clear that Bogucki is emotionally invested in the program. She talks one-on-one with inmates and says the program has changed her life. But she seems equally uninvested in acknowledging the ways unjust policing has contributed to serious problems within the criminal justice system. Kim’s dominant role in the documentary seems to serve the purpose of advancing a “not all cops are bad” narrative in a film that could—and should—have discussed more progressive themes.
The film also leaves out a huge part of the IF Project’s work: helping at-risk youth by presenting them with wisdom gleaned from inmates. The documentary barely addresses the effect the project has on the young people who participate, leaving the audience wondering about the IF Project’s impact on communities.
While it hits some high notes—it successfully addresses the devastating issues faced by mothers behind bars—The IF Project seems culturally out of place in light of the urgent debate over prison reform. The IF Project accomplishes the important task of amplifying inmate voices (or rather, some inmate voices; while women of color were interviewed, the women prominently featured were white), but the film underachieved overall. With 215,332 women behind bars as of 2014 (a 700 percent increase from 1980, according to the Sentencing Project), it feels misguided to make a film about prison and not discuss the ever-important subject of reform.