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Ava DuVernay’s ‘13th‘ Inspired Michael K. Williams to Tackle Juvenile Justice Problem in HBO’s ‘Raised in the System’

"Raised in the System"
Kristina Bumphrey/StarPix/REX/Shutterstock

Actor Michael K. Williams grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y. in a neighborhood plagued with crime and excess incarceration, but it wasn’t until he watched Ava DuVernay’s “13th” documentary that he recognized a need for juvenile justice reform.

“Not knowingly, that was the beginning of the seed planting for what I’m standing on now,” Williams told Variety at the Season 6 premiere of “Vice on HBO” at the Whitby Hotel in New York City on Tuesday. “It was a rude awakening.”

Now, Williams is bringing awareness to the nation’s mass incarceration crisis through “Raised in the System,” the first installment of a 35-episode season set to tackle political and cultural issues around the world. He is the executive producer and correspondent on the project.

“We are sending an entire generation of young people into prison. We are creating professional inmates with our children,” Williams continued. “In fact, they come out of the system worse than when they went in.”

David Simon, who worked with Williams on HBO’s “The Wire” co-hosted the event. Simon agreed that the juvenile justice system is “really a training ground for more mayhem and more trouble, rather than actually addressing the fact that these are children.” He hopes “Raised in the System” will capture the trauma of prolonged incarceration just as Williams intended.

Of the project, Williams said he began feeling helpless and hopeless but has since become empowered by the people he’s met who are enacting real change. While he may be new to the movement, Vice is no stranger to reporting on our country’s prison system. Co-executive producer Tim Clancy saluted Vice’s 2015 “Fixing the System” documentary that featured President Barack Obama, which centered around nonviolent drug offenders.

Vice’s “Raised in the System” debuts April 6 at 11 p.m. on HBO.