Documentary captures how a high school in a San Francisco jail heals and reduces recidivism

Believe it or not, although 70 percent of the adults incarcerated in our nation’s county jails lack a high school diploma, only one jail – San Francisco County Jail #5 in San Bruno, CA – offers inmates the opportunity to earn a high school diploma inside jail. Now a new feature-length documentary, The Corridor, wants to change that situation by capturing in detail how student inmates, teachers, and law enforcement staff prepare for graduation day and navigate a new paradigm of criminal justice.

Since the Five Keys Charter school opened in 2003 in San Francisco County Jail #5 with the support of former San Francisco County Sheriff Michael Hennessy, it’s helped cut the recidivism rate of prisoners nearly in half. Designed to prepare people in jail and their communities for their release, it offers inmates the opportunity to create alternatives to the revolving door of incarceration. So far, 800 inmates have graduated from the program.

Enrollment in the school or other high school diploma programs is mandatory for all inmates at the jail (unless they have a high school diploma). The school believes – given an awareness of the adverse childhood experiences of most prisoners – that people in jail have the capacity to change if given the opportunity to do so.

Not only do students learn academics, they also attend classes for violence prevention and parenting. “We’ve all been hurt on certain levels,” says Kathy Rose, a Five Keys teacher. “A goal of the school is to get to that healing through education.”

The Corridor, shot by filmmakers Annelise Wunderlich and Richard O’Connell, is an immersive portrait of the inner workings of the school, and captures the conflicts, dilemmas, and breakthroughs that arose during the year of filming on location. It took almost a year to get permission to film inside the jail, and now the filmmakers say, “We have until May 15th to raise $34K on Kickstarter. We want to finish the film this summer, and screen it in communities across the country this fall. The timing is crucial to put human faces to the emerging debate about how best to reform the system.”