Al Jazeera America to air series that explores criminal justice system

Sun May 18, 2014 5:13pm EDT
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By Piya Sinha-Roy

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A woman who says she was jailed after falsely confessing to a crime and a man imprisoned for 20 years for shooting a hole in a wall are just some of the cases explored in a new documentary series that Al Jazeera America hopes will draw viewers to the fledgling news network.

"The System with Joe Berlinger," premiering on Al Jazeera America on Sunday, will explore the complexities of the U.S. criminal justice system in an eight-part series that uses real cases to question the effectiveness of laws.

Berlinger, who specializes in long-form, investigative story-telling, is best-known for his "Paradise Lost," a series of films that helped to secure the eventual release of the 'West Memphis Three' - teenage boys accused of mutilating and murdering three eight-year-old boys.

The director said the phenomenon of "reality documentaries," which follow characters such as A&E's "Duck Dynasty," has left little room for television news documentaries.

"There's a certain homogenization that's happened in television as all the networks move away from their historical underpinnings and are all chasing the next big docu-soap," the director said.

"For somebody like me who has done long-form investigative work in documentaries, there aren't that many places to go."

In the premiere episode of "The System," Berlinger explores why people might falsely confess to a crime that can lead to their conviction, even when DNA evidence might be scarce.

But it is the second episode that Berlinger says defines what "The System" is about: The case of Florida man Orville Lee Wollard who was jailed for 20 years after firing a gun into the wall of his home to scare off his daughter's violent boyfriend.   Continued...