"Gideon's Army," directed and produced by Dawn Porter, will receive the 2014 Documentary Film Prize. The film follows three young public defenders in the Deep South — Travis Williams, Brandy Alexander, and June Hardwick — as they struggle with staggering caseloads, long hours, and low pay, trying to balance their commitment to public service with a criminal justice system strained to the breaking point.
Gideon v. Wainwright is the landmark Supreme Court decision that unanimously ruled that states are required to provide counsel in criminal cases to represent defendants unable to afford to pay their own attorneys.
In reflecting upon its decision, the awards committee said, "We are thrilled to have selected 'Gideon's Army' which celebrates the legion of idealistic young public defenders who are fighting for equal justice for the disenfranchised within our broken and biased legal system, while struggling to stay one step ahead of poverty themselves."
"Gideon’s Army" highlights the work of public defenders while also exposing the subtle and not so subtle ways in which the justice system is complicit in the mismanagement of indigent defense. Rather than taking their chances with a court appointed lawyer — who may have hundreds of other cases — increasing numbers of defendants agree to plea deals or sentences outside of a trial.
"I am honored and so very grateful to receive the Ridenhour Documentary Film Prize," said director Dawn Porter. "The award will help amplify the critical issues Gideon’s Army exposes, and further share the harrowing stories of America's overworked public defenders with audiences across the world. Ron Ridenhour was a man committed to truth-telling and correcting injustice. My hope is to advance these same ideals, by using 'Gideon's Army' to educate audiences, spark civic debate, and ultimately advance constructive solutions to the problems facing America's criminal justice system. On behalf of the 15,000 public defenders and their clients, and with special thanks to the wonderful lawyers of Gideon's Promise who are the inspiration and heart of the film, I thank the Ridenhour Award Committee."
"Gideon’s Army" will be awarded the 2014 Ridenhour Documentary Film Prize on April 30th at The National Press Club in Washington, DC.