Actor Tim Robbins opened up about his ongoing campaign for prison reform at the Venice Film Festival on Thursday, arguing that new measures will help foster both a “safer and more humane society.”
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Robbins — who starred as an incarcerated man in the cult classic prison drama Shawshank Redemption — talked about The Actor’s Gang Prison Project, a theater program running in 13 Californian state prisons aimed at breaking down divisions between inmates. His documentary, 45 Seconds of Laughter, provides a behind-the-scenes look at the program in action at a Level Four-security facility in Calipatria State Prison.
“Rehabilitation makes a safer society and a more humane society,” Tim Robbins explained when asked about his campaign for prison reform. “Unfortunately, now we’re going in the opposite direction with private prisons that have absolutely no incentive to provide rehabilitation because they make money based on the beds they sell.”
The 60-year-old argued that a crucial part of prison reform is changing the way correctional officers are asked to run the prisons and deal with inmates.
“We have to understand that this isn’t just about the way that we treat prisoners,” the Oscar-winner explained. “It’s also about how we are asking agents of the state to treat prisoners and the effect of that on their lives.”
“Correctional officers have one of the highest rates of suicide in this country. That’s related to what is being asked of them. When you are asked to dehumanize individuals, when you are asked to apply a punitive system instead of a rehabilitative one, it affects the spirits and the wellbeing of correctional officers. When you are asked to be inhumane toward someone, it kills something in you.”
However, Robbins expressed hope that the country is moving in the right direction.
“I think the dialogue is already happening. The narrative is already changing,” he said. “I believe that advocacy is growing for change. And there are several different ways to participate in that: voting for prosecutors that use sentencing in a different way, and voting for legislators and politicians that see the need for fundamental change in our system.”
Robbins, who supported Bernie Sanders’s campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, also confirmed he is working on a “brutal satire” about the current state of America.
“I’m also working on a pretty brutal satire about what’s going on right now in the world, what is happening in our country. It would be lovely if I could get one of those going,” he revealed. “I guess the reason I started writing it is, you know, how do you satirize this world we’re living in right now? So it’s kind of going to the next extreme of what this all means.”
Never shy about his feelings toward President Donald Trump, Tim Robbins declared last year that America elected a “petulant, overgrown child monster.”
45 Seconds of Laughter premieres in Venice on Friday before making its North American debut next month at the New York Film Festival.