Speech Of Arrested Development Uses Hip-Hop To Turn Inmates’ Lives Around

“16 Bars” offers a rare glimpse at the human stories and songs locked away in our nation’s jails and prisons.

The documentary follows a unique rehabilitation effort in a Virginia jail that encourages inmates to write and record original music.

In the jail’s makeshift recording studio, four men collaborate to produce an album with Grammy-winner Todd “Speech” Thomas of Arrested Development.

As the creative process unfolds, these incarcerated artists must confront the traumas of their past, and music becomes the key to unlocking a new chapter in their lives.

Two-time Grammy-winner Speech Thomas is widely considered one of the godfathers of conscious hip-hop.

His band Arrested Development’s 1993 debut album “3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life of…” went quadruple platinum and achieved what few thought was possible at the time, establishing an Afrocentric alternative to gangster rap that was commercially viable.

Twenty-five years later, Speech continues to tour the world with his band and seek out opportunities to use music to address issues of social and racial justice.

In 2017, he set out on a journey to the Richmond City Jail, where he conducted music workshops with inmates.

His goal was to shed light on the complex issues in our criminal justice system by bringing the voices and stories of incarcerated people to a larger audience.

Here are some interesting facts in “16 Bars.”


Currently 1 in 35 people in the US are incarcerated.

Today, the United States makes up about 5% of the world’s population and has 21% of the world’s prisoners.

Between 1980 and 2015, the number of people incarcerated in America increased from roughly 500,000 to over 2.2 million.

1 in every 37 adults in the United States, or 2.7% of the adult population, is under some form of correctional supervision.

African Americans and Hispanics made up 64% of the federal and state prison population in 2016, but represented only 32% of the US population.

70% of those released from prison wind up back in prison. This is the very definition of the “recidivism” problem.

That number can drop to 30% when those inmates learn employable skills while incarcerated.