Brazilian juvenile correctional facilities are inhospitable, but the alternative isn't much better. “Going home is worse than being locked up,” a teenage girl proclaims during her shoplifting trial. Her words haunt Maria Ramos's documentary, which goes deep into the doomed juvenile justice system. Rio de Janeiro's youth courts overflow with cases, and the detention centers are dirty and overcrowded. Because Brazilian law forbids photographing minors during judicial proceedings, Ramos hired local youths to portray the juvenile defendants. The technique works beautifully, as these “actors” bring a streetwise authenticity to their verbatim recitations of the testimony of the accused. The defendants and their stand-ins hail from the same favelas, where desperate teenage mothers mingle with drug dealers and abused children. Lording over all the proceedings is Judge Luciana Fiala, who dispenses advice and points fingers like a disapproving mother. One shares her exasperation, but it's hard to blame the kids themselves; life at home seems prison enough.

Discussion to follow with Alison Parker, deputy director of the U.S. Program, Human Rights Watch.

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