First Degree

25 min. Dist. by Alexander Street. 2015. $295. ISBN unavail.
Gr 9 Up—The United States has only five percent of the world's population and yet has more than 25 percent of the world's prison population, and three-quarters of those released are returned to prison within three years. Sean Pica, after serving 24 years for killing an abusive father of a friend when he was 16, is now the director of the college program in New York's Sing Sing Correctional Facility. It has produced 303 graduates in 14 years, and fewer than one percent of their graduates return to prison. Jermaine, an African American whose grandfather, father, and uncles were incarcerated, is the first person in his family to graduate college. He makes the point that "society is not giving me anything free, society is investing in me to serve the community upon my release" and that "it costs $64,000 to incarcerate someone for a year, and $50,000 to go to Harvard." Indeed, Pica does the math and estimates that his program has saved New York taxpayers about $8 million a year. Highlights include footage of a graduation ceremony with Harry Belafonte as a speaker.
VERDICT A great pick for any middle or high school social studies class studying mass incarceration and as a consideration for what college is really all about.

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